PARIS/TOKYO (Reuters) – Renault shares hit six-year lows on Monday as investors worried the flight of former boss Carlos Ghosn from Japanese justice had deepened a rift with Nissan that could lead to a break-up of the 20-year alliance.
At 1344 GMT, Renault shares were down 2.4% at the bottom of Paris’ CAC 40, after earlier falling more than 3%.
Nissan has accelerated contingency planning for a split from Renault since December’s dramatic escape of Ghosn, who forged the Renault-Nissan alliance and led it for almost two decades, the Financial Times reported, citing sources.
Long-standing tensions in the Franco-Japanese partnership have been heightened since Ghosn’s arrest in Tokyo in November 2018 on allegations of financial misconduct, which he denies.
“We firmly believe the relationship between (Renault and Nissan) and hence the alliance is broken and is likely beyond the point of repair,” Evercore ISI analysts Arndt Elinghorst and Chris McNally wrote in a note on Monday. They have an ‘underperform’ rating on Renault shares.
Renault declined to comment and Nissan was not immediately available for comment in Japan, where it was a national holiday.
Speaking after his dramatic flight to Lebanon, Ghosn said last week the alliance was now a “masquerade” and failing without him at the helm.
Renault and Nissan shares have fallen almost 40% since Ghosn’s arrest. The auto sector is also struggling with falling demand as well as more stringent emissions targets, forcing carmakers to invest in cleaner models and other innovations.
But the companies hope changes at the top could mark a reset for the partnership.
Renault is in the process of choosing a new CEO after ousting Thierry Bollore in October and late last year Nissan picked Makoto Uchida, known for having close ties with Renault, as CEO.
Key to the partnership’s survival is reviving plans this year for new joint industrial projects, which sources said have stalled as the scandal engulfed the companies.
Some developments set in motion during the Ghosn era are due to come to fruition in 2020 – Nissan’s crossover electric car, based on its Ariya concept model, will be the first to launch on the two firms’ new joint electric platform, and in 2021 a Renault equivalent should also take shape.
Jean-Dominique Senard, who joined Renault from tyre maker Michelin as chairman in early 2019 after Ghosn’s arrest, has vowed to get the alliance working by this year, although the firms have yet to present new common initiatives.
“The problem is today, there’s nothing concrete as we look ahead, no goals,” a former senior employee at Renault said.
Relations soured following Ghosn’s arrest, but the roots behind the tensions go back years.
A major sticking point since 2015 has been the equal division of costs for R&D into new technology and products, two sources close to Nissan said.
That strategy “did not compensate Nissan’s work properly: Nissan’s engineering output was 40% better, meaning Nissan engineers on average produced 40% more than their Renault counterparts in a given amount of time spent on a job,” said one of the sources.
“When measured more strictly, Nissan’s output in some cases was double Renault’s,” he said.
Additional reporting by Sarah White in Paris; writing by Josephine Mason in London; editing by Jason Neely and Mark Potter