French state ‘did not derail’ Renault-Fiat deal: finance minister

PARIS, June 13: French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said Thursday that the government was not to blame for a failed “merger of equals” between Renault and the US-Italian automaker Fiat Chrysler, denying claims by Renault’s chairman.

“We did not derail the wedding between Renault and Fiat,” Le Maire told France Info radio, ahead of a meeting with Renault chairman Jean-Dominique Senard.

Senard told shareholders at Renault’s AGM on Wednesday that board directors representing the French state, which owns 15 percent of the carmaker, had demanded more time to study the tie-up, preventing a vote on the deal from taking place.

“We didn’t veto the project,” said Le Maire, who has focused on Renault’s strained alliance with its Japanese partner Nissan.

“We simply asked, after seeing that Nissan was not going to give its backing, for five more days to study the operation.” Just over a week after proposing a merger that got a warm welcome from Renault and its investors, Fiat walked away last week, with its president John Elkann saying trying to push ahead with the deal would be “unreasonable”.

But Le Maire defended his request for more time as “reasonable,” saying the scope of the merger “required that the Japanese partner be associated with it and in the end in favour of it.” “Our strategy has always been… the reinforcement of the Renault-Nissan alliance. It’s at the heart of Renault’s as well as Nissan’s profitability. We’re not going to change our strategy every five minutes,” he said.

“The state will never act under pressure or in haste in this matter,” Le Maire added.

He will meet later Thursday with Senard, who on Wednesday told investors he considered the French state’s move “disappointing.” “Rarely have I seen a merger project able to produce such significant synergies, and without having negative consequences in terms of jobs and livelihoods,” he said.

The merger would have created the world’s third-largest automaker, behind Volkswagen and Toyota.

But including Renault’s alliance partners Nissan and Mitsubishi, it would have been an industry behemoth selling some 15 million vehicles a year.

A combination would also have allowed them to pool investments into costly electric motor and autonomous driving technologies, a key development for the industry as governments worldwide tackle carbon emissions and the mobility challenges stemming from rapid urbanisation. (AGENCIES)