Carlos Ghosn, who heads both car makers as chief executive, said it
had taken this long for the corporate mindsets to evolve to allow a
"peaceful and consensual" integration, but added that the car brands
would remain separate and a full merger would be problematic.
"I am trying to create the minimum change for the maximum
performance," Ghosn told Reuters in a telephone interview.
The world's fourth-biggest car grouping by sales has already been
jointly purchasing some components and developing common vehicle
architectures to cut costs, but it must boost economies of scale to
compete with giants like Volkswagen AG <VOWG_p.DE>.
Under the latest move which formalizes plans sketched out in January
the two companies will combine operations in four areas — manufacturing and logistics, research and development, purchasing,
and human resources — as part of an effort to save at least 4.3
billion euros ($6 billion) by 2016.
Ghosn named new executive vice presidents to run each of the four
combined operations, which will be launched in April.
A cascade of lower-level appointments is expected to follow, people
with knowledge of the matter said, including the move of a former
Nissan executive to head Renault's China operations.
Nissan is already a strong player in China, the world's biggest auto
market and accounting for about one-quarter of Nissan's sales, while
Renault's Chinese sales are negligible and it will not begin
domestic production with joint venture partner Dongfeng Motor Group
<0489.HK> until 2016.
While many carmakers have pursued partnerships to boost scale and
share the burden of R&D costs, the Renault-Nissan alliance is a rare
case of an equity partnership led by a single CEO that has proved
successful over the long term.
Renault holds a 43.4 percent stake in Nissan, having rescued the
Japanese firm from near-bankruptcy in 1999. Nissan, which now holds
15 percent of Renault, has since boosted its sales and profit
sharply while its French partner has struggled, and it now sells
twice as many vehicles as Renault.
Compared with faster-moving rival combinations such as the
Fiat-Chrysler <FIA.MI> merger, analysts and industry sources say,
Renault and Nissan have missed major savings opportunities over the
years as they worked separately on development projects such as
electric cars and light commercial vehicles.
[to top of second column]
The latest steps in the alliance will test whether their long
courtship has made integration any easier.
"Renault and Nissan are like a married couple after 15 years," said
Takaki Nakanishi, an autos industry analyst at Nakanishi Research
"They are each doing their own thing inside the house but they
cannot survive if they separate."
He added that these integration steps are necessary but are likely
to be more difficult and take longer to implement than joint
development of vehicle architectures.
Under the new plan, Japanese executives from Nissan take the core
new engineering and manufacturing leadership roles.
Tsuyoshi Yamaguchi, current head of platforms and parts, will hold
overall responsibility for research and development in engines and
vehicles including future electric cars.
Industrial strategy, production and supply chain management will be
headed by Shohei Kimura, while former Renault executives Christian
Vandenhende and Marie-Francoise Damesin lead combined purchasing and
Investors will view the new measures positively, London-based
Barclays analyst Kristina Church said. "Especially as we're finally
starting to see the (savings) numbers drop down to the bottom line,"
Renault's shares were 0.5 percent higher at 65.52 euros at 1240 GMT.
Nissan closed down 0.4 percent at 850 yen prior to the announcement,
in line with the main Nikkei index <.N225>.
(Additional reporting by Gilles Guillaume in Paris and Norihiko
Shirouzu in Beijing; editing by Edmund Klamann and Greg Mahlich)
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