Renault chief slates French state for derailing Fiat-Chrysler deal

Jean-Dominique Senard vows not to cede power to partner Nissan during robust agm

Renault  chairman  Jean-Dominique Senard addresses shareholders during a meeting in Paris. Photograph: Reuters/via Reuters TV

Renault chairman Jean-Dominique Senard addresses shareholders during a meeting in Paris. Photograph: Reuters/via Reuters TV

 

Renault’s chairman sharply criticised the French government for scuppering merger talks with Fiat Chrysler, putting the carmaker at odds with its largest shareholder, as he vowed not to cede power to alliance partner Nissan during a robust shareholder meeting.

Jean-Dominique Senard called the government’s decision to delay last Wednesday’s Renault vote on a proposed €33 billion merger with the Italian-American carmaker “extremely unfortunate”.

FCA withdrew the offer immediately after the French government, which owns 15 per cent of the carmaker, demanded a delay in the vote last Wednesday.

“There was the possibility to create a European champion at a time when people complain we don’t have one,” Mr Senard said to shareholder applause.

“With the exception of one vote against, all members of the board enthusiastically approved that opportunity. It just turned out that representative of the French government did not see eye to eye with us,” he said, adding that it was finance minister Bruno Le Maire himself who had initially requested he make contact with FCA.

His comments will test Mr Senard’s relationship with the state, which appointed him to the position in January.

However, he will travel to the G20 summit with President Emmanuel Macron at the end of June and is expected to meet Nissan’s leadership.

‘Significant restructure’

The collapse of the FCA talks left Mr Senard, who was parachuted into the business in January, looking vulnerable and weak.

“We are facing a new era where a significant restructuring of the market is about to happen,” he said, warning of the need to collaborate ahead of a “Chinese onslaught” on the car market in the coming years. He added: “The project [with FCA] remains in my head.”

He also told shareholders that the company’s alliance with Nissan was “more damaged than it seemed” following the arrest of Carlos Ghosn last November and stressed that “trust” between the businesses could be “repaired”.

In one answer to a shareholder question, he appeared to denounce a 2015 peace accord between Nissan and Renault, which saw the French group vow not to use its 43 per cent stake in Nissan to meddle in its partner’s governance.

“I don’t find it natural,” he said. “I won’t be the chairman who will lead to further reduction of Renault’s role in the alliance.”

His comments come days after relations between the pair appeared to hit a new low, after Renault said it would use its 43 per cent shareholding in the Japanese group to block its proposed governance changes. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019