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A Nissan Mixim concept car is exhibited at the Wuhan Motor Show, Hubei province, China, Oct. 12, 2012. (DARLEY SHEN/REUTERS)
A Nissan Mixim concept car is exhibited at the Wuhan Motor Show, Hubei province, China, Oct. 12, 2012. (DARLEY SHEN/REUTERS)

Renault-Nissan to boost cost savings Add to ...

Renault SA and Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. will pool more operations and seek a more stable structure for their car-making alliance, sources said, to compete with Volkswagen AG on scale and prepare for chief executive Carlos Ghosn’s eventual succession.

The French and Japanese auto makers have doubled their joint savings goal to €4-billion ($5.2-billion) in 2016 and plan to review the cross shareholdings underpinning their 13-year-old alliance, company sources said.

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Renault shares rose as much as 9.8 per cent on the news.

“[Mr.] Ghosn said we need to seek further synergies to get to double where we are today,” said an executive who attended internal presentations to alliance managers on Sept. 25-26.

Car makers across the globe are racing to slash costs and build economies of scale by pooling everything from technology investments to purchasing and logistics with their own brands, alliance partners and even rivals.

Renault took a stake in Nissan in 1999, dispatched Mr. Ghosn to rescue the Japanese auto maker from near-bankruptcy and raised the holding three years later – but stopped short of a full merger.

Where DaimlerChrysler and other rival pairings have failed, Renault-Nissan survived by preserving both companies’ autonomy – but at the price of missed opportunities to slash costs.

Mr. Ghosn’s softly-softly approach has allowed others such as Hyundai Motor Co. and Volkswagen to step into the breach and seize more impressive economies of scale.

According to PwC data, VW last year built 3.8 million cars, of 27 different models including the Golf, from a single underlying vehicle architecture or platform.

That dwarfs the alliance’s 2.6 million vehicles – Renault Clio subcompacts, Nissan Juke crossovers and 14 other models – built on its biggest-selling B-platform.

In response to tougher global competition, Mr. Ghosn has raised pressure for closer Renault-Nissan integration by naming executives to oversee joint vehicle programs and production.

The savings push will see more activities transferred to an existing joint venture, Renault-Nissan BV, which already centralizes purchasing, logistics and IT services for much of the alliance.

In preliminary discussions that were not disclosed at the September meeting, senior executives are also weighing changes to Renault and Nissan’s reciprocal holdings, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

Renault currently holds a 43.4-per-cent stake in its larger Japanese affiliate, which in turn owns 15 per cent of Renault.

Neither car maker would comment on savings goals or the “shifting pendulum of speculation about the alliance’s corporate structure,” a Renault-Nissan spokeswoman said.

“We seek more and more synergies every year,” she added.

While the structural review is at a preliminary stage, it is likely to propose that the two auto makers be controlled through a common holding, rather than an outright merger, sources said.

Renault’s board met for the first time this month at the Amsterdam headquarters of the Renault-Nissan BV holding, currently under the two auto makers’ 50-50 ownership.

Changes are also expected to address Renault shareholders’ concerns that the current situation undervalues their investment, the sources said.

Renault’s €10.14-billion market capitalization is more than 30 per cent lower than the combined worth of its own holdings in Nissan and Volvo AB.

Executives at both auto makers acknowledged privately that revamping the alliance is becoming more urgent as Mr. Ghosn’s retirement draws closer. Few if any potential successors are considered capable of holding the partnership together under its current loose structure.

Backing from the French government, which owns 15 per cent of Renault, would be critical to any attempt to modify the shareholdings, they said.

“Renault knows that if they want the alliance to stay stuck together post-Ghosn, they need to do more than hire a new CEO,” said a European fund manager overseeing several billion euros in assets including a small Renault stake.

Mr. Ghosn turns 62 in 2016, the end of Renault’s current medium-term plan, while Nissan’s current plan concludes the following year. His current contracts are up for renewal at Nissan next year and Renault in 2014.

Renault shares closed 4.3 per cent higher in Paris after giving up some of their earlier gains. Nissan stock closed 1.4 per cent higher in Tokyo earlier in the day.

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