Nissan CEO Saikawa, Ghosn had sought new alliance partner

PARIS • Nissan Motor Co Ltd then-chairman Carlos Ghosn and the carmaker’s CEO considered bringing in a new partner for the alliance with Renault SA and Mitsubishi Motors Corp last year, and discussed possible acquisitions in China.

At the time, two months before his arrest in Tokyo, Ghosn was under pressure to make the three-way automobile alliance “irreversible”. In an email message to Ghosn seen by Bloomberg, Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa (picture) wrote that he had been working over the summer “quietly by myself” at his boss’ request, to find a structure that would be “acceptable for both sides”. He offered to discuss possibilities with Ghosn.

While Saikawa and Ghosn are said to have had differing views on further integration between Nissan and Renault, the email shows they were considering ways to expand the alliance. That could be a factor in Ghosn’s defence against charges of financial crimes. Ghosn, who was chairman of all three companies, is now awaiting trial after spending 108 days in a Tokyo prison. He has denied charges and blamed a “plot” against him by Nissan executives trying to prevent closer ties with Renault.

In the correspondence, Saikawa raised the possibility of bringing in another manufacturer as a fourth partner for the alliance. He didn’t identify any potential candidate. He wrote that expansion opportunities also included “acquisition of Chinese companies” for electric vehicles or connected services.

The email casts light on the private discussions between the two men on the way forward for the Franco-Japanese alliance, the biggest of its kind in the world. Internally, Saikawa had argued against a full merger and that Nissan should remain independent or be the dominant force in any deeper union. He told Nikkei in April 2018 that Nissan wanted to maintain the three-way alliance.

Nissan spokesman Nicholas Maxfield said the company doesn’t comment on, or confirm or deny, the content of internal communications. He said he wouldn’t comment on “matters potentially related to pending judicial processes”. Representatives for Ghosn’s family and Renault declined to comment.

In the message to Ghosn, Saikawa advised changing the alliance’s structure in 2019 “rather than wait”. Seven months before, Ghosn had pledged to cement the partnership, a promise that came after France, Renault’s most powerful shareholder, had demanded deeper ties with Nissan. — Bloomberg