Renault chief executive Luca de Meo has jetted into Tokyo for a weekend of talks with Nissan boss Makoto Uchida aimed at breaking a deadlock over intellectual property and potentially paving the way for a historic restructuring of the carmakers’ alliance.
De Meo’s visit centres on two proposals aimed at securing Renault’s future but which, crucially, require Nissan’s agreement, according to people close to both sides.
The alliance between Renault and Nissan, which was first struck in 1999, has held together despite tensions. But as the global car industry shifts inexorably towards electric vehicles, the pressure on both carmakers to make it work better is building.
The first proposal is the French group’s ambition to offload part of its combustion engine business to China’s Geely, the people said. The plan is part of Renault’s long-term ambition to only sell electric vehicles but, given the historic sharing of technology with Nissan, requires the latter’s consent.
People familiar with the matter said Renault’s plan would most likely be to form a new joint venture with Geely’s Aurobay business, a unit co-owned by the Chinese carmaker and Volvo Cars, which runs Volvo’s remaining engine business.
It is a step that has drawn strong resistance from Nissan, which does not want technology that it jointly developed with Renault over many years shared with a Chinese company, the people added.
De Meo wants a deal with Geely finalised before the French carmaker’s capital markets day in early November.
The second proposal under discussion this weekend is Renault’s request that Nissan invest in a new “electric vehicle and software” unit that the French carmaker aims to eventually list as a separate company called “Ampere”.
While resolving the dispute over intellectual property is a key aim of the talks, Nissan will use it as a chance to call for a significant reduction of the 43 per cent stake that Renault holds in the company — long a source of tension.
Although historically opposed to such a change, Renault’s opposition has eased as it instead seeks to strengthen co-operation with Nissan on operational projects, according to two people.
Renault executives have argued that the alliance with Nissan will live or die on its ability to forge ahead with joint production plans, opening the door in recent months to potential changes in the ownership structure, the people said.
“There have been discussions about all of this. The important thing now is to persevere with what underpins the alliance, the capital structure in itself is a bit irrelevant,” one of the people added.
As the two companies wrestle with the alliance, their chief rivals are forging closer ties. Stellantis, formed by the merger of Peugeot owner PSA and Italy’s Fiat-Chrysler, is now one of the world’s most valuable carmakers, while Honda and General Motors are co-operating closely on battery technology.
Renault, Nissan and Geely all declined to comment. The French state owns 15 per cent of Renault, and will have sway over any changes to the carmaker’s holding in Nissan. The French economy ministry declined to comment.