Exclusive-Nissan takes its own road, minus Renault, in seeking tech tie-up
By Norihiko Shirouzu and Maki Shiraki
(Reuters) -Nissan is developing growth plans in areas such as software and electric vehicles (EVs) independent of Renault SA as the automakers work to finalise terms of a sharply limited alliance, said seven people with knowledge of the matter.
Japan’s third-biggest automaker by sales is seeking a partner outside the auto industry to develop software that connects vehicles to cloud-based services, two people involved in discussions said, without elaborating on candidates. That would address a relative weakness for Nissan as it tries to make cars “smarter and more connected”, one of the people said.
It is also working on an expanded strategy for all-battery and plug-in EVs for North American and Asian markets that will be for Nissan alone, they said.
The revelations come as the alliance oversight board met this week to discuss a rebalance that will see Renault cut its stake in Nissan to 15% from 43% – matching the size of Nissan’s stake in Renault – and Nissan gain reciprocal voting rights.
Under the deal, to be finalised by mid-year, Nissan will also invest in the French automaker’s new Ampere EV business.
Imbalance had long riled Nissan executives who complained Renault did not pay its fair share of costs for innovation and development. Nissan’s emerging strategy reflects a belief within the automaker that the 23-year-old alliance has run its course for many of the biggest challenges it faces, the people said.
While Nissan sees continued savings in shared parts procurement with Renault, it has no plan to provide engineering support to Ampere, said two of the people, who all asked not to be identified because talks between the pair are ongoing.
It also has no plan to provide its e-Power hybrid technology to a gasoline powertrain-focused joint venture Renault has with China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co Ltd and Saudi Aramco Base Oil Co JSC, two of the people said.
Such go-it-alone thinking is shaping a longer-term plan that could be announced by year-end focusing on improved operational performance, electrification and software allowing self-driving and other “connected car” features, one of the people said.
“Even if Renault gets something from Nissan, benefits moving in the other direction are hard,” a second person with knowledge of Nissan’s stance said. “The restrictions from Renault are gone, and we can move freely.”
In a joint statement to Reuters, Nissan and Renault said they were working toward final partnership terms that would make them more competitive. They said they planned to detail already-announced cooperative projects for India and Latin America.
“The new structure enables faster and more flexible decision making,” the pair said in the statement.
They said, without elaborating, investing in Ampere would strengthen Nissan in Europe and “accelerate new business”.
Nissan will invest and provide technology for the venture but will limit its operational involvement, one of the people told Reuters. If Ampere developed technology of interest for Europe, Nissan would look to buy it separately, the person said.
GHOSN’S VISION GONE
The stance marks a hard stop for the vision of Carlos Ghosn, who formerly headed both Renault and Nissan and pushed deeper integration over the objections of some Nissan executives.
Ghosn was arrested in 2018 in Tokyo on charges of financial misconduct, and said his detention was part of a plot by Nissan executives to block a merger. He fled to Lebanon in late 2019 while awaiting trial and has since been living as a fugitive.
In rebalancing talks, Nissan has pushed for protection of its technology to limit any downside from continued partnership, people involved have said. Among technology Nissan wants to protect is its work on solid-state lithium-ion battery making and its e-Power electric hybrid powertrain, the people said.
Some executives said the alliance talks’ best outcome would have been a “zero percent, zero percent” equity tie-up – a goal they knew was unreachable but floated to drive home the point that Nissan needed to move on its own, the people said.
Shares of Nissan are up 17% so far this year, putting them on track, at least for now, for their first annual increase in eight years.
(Reporting by Norihiko Shirouzu and Maki Shiraki; Additional reporting by Gilles Guillaume in Paris and Daniel Leussink in Tokyo; Editing by Christopher Cushing and Susan Fenton)