Photo/IllutrationToshiyuki Shiga, the former chief operating officer of Nissan Motor Co., responds to questions from The Asahi Shimbun. (Satoshi Kimura)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Carlos Ghosn, the former chairman of Nissan Motor Co., faced enormous pressure from Renault SA to merge the automakers, but he acted as a “wall” against the plan, a former close associate said.

Toshiyuki Shiga, who was chief operating officer of Nissan under Ghosn between 2005 and 2013, said in an exclusive interview with The Asahi Shimbun that the French government, the largest shareholder in Renault, also pushed hard for a merger.

“Ghosn originally was pressured (by France), but he served as a windbreak or wall, if you will,” Shiga, who served as a board member before stepping down from that post in June, said.

With Ghosn’s arrest in November and subsequent indictment on aggravated breach of trust and other charges, Renault’s pressure has directly hit Nissan, according to Shiga.

The French automaker has recently made moves to merge the two companies, but Nissan has rejected the proposal.

Shiga declined to comment on the allegations against Ghosn. He also said it was way too late for the two companies to merge.

Shiga said Nissan executives might have agreed to become a subsidiary of Renault if the French automaker had made that proposal in 1999, when the two companies entered a capital partnership to save Nissan from the brink of bankruptcy.

But Shiga said that over the past 20 years, “Nissan has made its best efforts and paid back its obligations to Renault. I believe it is no longer possible for Nissan to agree to a merger based simply on the principle of capital arrangements.”

Shiga rejected the view that Renault had intensified the pressure on Nissan for a merger after Ghosn’s arrest.

Renault has a 43-percent stake in Nissan, but Shiga explained that Louis Schweitzer, who headed Renault when it provided the capital to Nissan, may have considered the possibility of a merger at that time.

Shiga said about Ghosn, “I believe he felt it would be better if (the two companies) were independent companies.”

After Ghosn became chief executive officer of both Nissan and Renault in 2005, he became much more careful about any conflict of interest that might lead shareholders of the two companies to file lawsuits for damaging their financial interests, according to Shiga.

He said that Ghosn long tried to maintain a win-win relationship between the two automakers.

However, Shiga added that after he stepped down as COO in 2013, Ghosn intensified the pressure on subordinates to achieve the various corporate goals that he had set.

Shiga felt that Ghosn’s drive may have been a reflection of the pressure that he himself was under.

“I heard him complain about the pressure he faced from Renault shareholders and investors about why he did not go ahead and merge the two companies,” Shiga said. “Unless he expanded the synergy of the two companies, Renault shareholders, including the French government, would not have been satisfied. I believe that dilemma weighed heavily on Ghosn.”

From 2014, Nissan and Renault did combine functions of four major departments, including research and development and manufacturing technology. A vice president of either Nissan or Renault headed those combined departments.

Shiga explained that friction between the two companies increased greatly from around this time because “Ghosn’s pressure (to achieve corporate goals) became so great that the vice presidents could not think about a win-win situation. Instead, they went ahead with measures that might have helped one company and hurt the other as long as the end result was a positive one overall.”

When asked if Ghosn’s tenure of close to 20 years was too long, Shiga said, “He lost the opportunity to step down, in part because he had to continue acting as a windbreak.”

Although Shiga rejected the idea of dissolving the partnership with Renault, he said efforts should be made to achieve synergy by returning to the starting point and seeking business programs that can lead to a win-win situation.

(This article was written by Satoshi Kimura and Yasuaki Oshika.)