Renault Ousts Bollore, Names Clotilde Delbos As Interim CEO

Renault SA fired CEO Thierry Bollore on Friday and named Clotilde Delbos to succeed him on an interim basis in the latest fallout from the scandal that began with the arrest of former CEO Carlos Ghosn last November.

Delbos becomes the second woman to lead a major automaker. General Motors named Mary Barra as CEO in December 2013. She added the title of chairman in January 2016.

Delbos began working at Renault in 2012 and became chief financial officer in 2016. She has been involved in the French automaker’s occasionally turbulent alliance with Nissan. More recently, she was part of what Renault called the “Orange group” that advocated for a full merger with Nissan.

Ghosn was forced to resign after he was charged with fraud and potential tax evasion. He continues to maintain his innocence.

Bollore was named CEO in the wake of Ghosn’s departure. The company also hired former Jean-Dominique Senard, a former executive at tire manufacturer Michelin, as chairman.

The French government had been pushing for a full merger between Renault and its partner Nissan or increase ties with a third partner, Mitsubishi Motors.

Bollore, who was a close associate of Ghosn, told French newspaper Les Echos his firing was a “coup.’

"The brutality and the totally unexpected character of what is happening are stupefying," Bollore told the newspaper.

Chairman Senard denied there was any pressure from Nissan or the French government to remove Bollore.

“We’re at a new stage now for this alliance,” he said at a news conference in Paris. “Sometimes you need new management… to breathe new life into things.”

Bollore’s ouster comes days after Nissan replaced its former CEO Hiroto Saikawa with Makoto Uchida, a relative newcomer seen as favoring closer ties with Renault.

Renault currently owns 43% of Nissan, but Nissan owns just 15% of Renault, a stake equal to what the French government holds in Renault.

In other changes, Renault’s directors named Olivier Murguet and Jose Vincente de los Mozos as deputy managing directors to support Delbos. Chairman Senard will also take the title of interim president.

It’s unclear whether Renault will seek a permanent CEO and, if so, whether that person would come from inside or outside the company.

Equally uncertain is whether Friday’s changes will revive interest in Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ proposal to merge with Renault. FCA presented that idea last May, but Renault rejected it after officials from the French government declined to respond to it.

Reuters reported that Senard said any discussions with FCA were not on the agenda.

Renault and Nissan have struggled financially since Ghosn’s firing.

In July Renault reported its profit for the first six months of 2019 fell 50% to 970 million euros ($1.08 billion). Revenue for that same period dropped 6.4% to 28.05 billion euros ($31.2 billion).

Renault experienced weaker demand in France, and an even sharper sales decline in Turkey and Argentina.

Nissan’s profit for its first fiscal quarter fell 95% and it is cutting about 12,500 jobs globally.

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I have worked through three recessions, chronicled the rise of Asia and European automakers in the U.S., the bankruptcies of General Motors and Chrysler, and witnessed