By Sean McLain
This article is being republished as part of our daily reproduction of WSJ.com articles that also appeared in the U.S. print edition of The Wall Street Journal (June 23, 2018).
TOKYO -- Carlos Ghosn said Friday there was "zero chance" Renault SA would acquire partners Nissan Motor Co. and Mitsubishi Motors Corp., bringing more clarity to the direction of a 19-year-old alliance that is preparing for a future without its chief architect.
Mr. Ghosn, chief executive of Renault and chairman of both Nissan and Mitsubishi, was speaking at the annual shareholder meeting of Mitsubishi. "Anybody who will ask Nissan and Mitsubishi Motors to become wholly owned subsidiaries of Renault has zero chance of getting the result," he said.
Nissan's Chief Executive Hiroto Saikawa has said he is opposed to a merger and wants the companies to remain independent.
The alliance has succeeded in large part due to Mr. Ghosn, who is expected to step down from his position at Renault by 2022. He has said he wants to make the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance "irreversible" by that point.
The companies have declined to say what it would take to make that happen, but it is becoming clearer what they won't be doing.
With Friday's comments, Mr. Ghosn ruled out a simple acquisition by Renault of its Japanese partners. Meanwhile, a merger is difficult because of the opposition by Mr. Saikawa, whose stance is shaped by concerns within Nissan that a merger would be opposed by rank-and-file employees.
"The last thing we want to do is by converging the three companies, do something where some people are demotivated, because they have the impression that they will be working for somebody else," Mr. Ghosn said. "This is a fundamental issue."
Mr. Ghosn has acted as an arbiter and striven to maintain neutrality while ensuring the companies share costs and technological breakthroughs. Nissan's Mr. Saikawa has said that the alliance worked in the past by following "homework assignments" issued by Mr. Ghosn.
Replacing him would be a tall order, but Mr. Saikawa has said the three car makers will have to find a way to make the alliance work without such a figure.
An additional complication is the current shareholding pattern. Renault owns a more than 43% stake in Nissan. Nissan owns 15% of Renault, an imbalance reflecting the fact that Nissan was facing bankruptcy when the cross-shareholding arrangement was formed. Today Nissan is the more profitable company of the two. Mitsubishi joined the alliance after Nissan took a 34% stake in the company in 2016.
The Renault-Nissan shareholding pattern "ensures that both partners have a mutual self-interest and encourages each to pursue 'win-win' strategies that benefit both," said a spokesman for the alliance. He said "all options are still on the table" for the alliance's future.
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