Two giant automakers tied in an uneasy alliance — Japan’s Nissan and France’s Renault — announced on Monday that they had struck a deal to make their relationship more equitable, ending a yearslong power struggle that contributed to the downfall of the alliance’s former leader, Carlos Ghosn.
The agreement opens a path for the companies to increase cooperation in the growing market for electric vehicles, a critical area for the alliance as it seeks to respond to changing regulations and the challenges posed by upstart competitors like Tesla and China’s BYD, which have vaulted past traditional automakers in the race to meet consumer demand for battery-powered cars.
Nissan said that the agreement was “an important milestone in its discussions with Renault Group on defining new foundations for their partnership,” which has been dominated by the French automaker since 1999, when it bailed out the foundering Japanese company.
Renault eventually built up a 43 percent stake in Nissan with voting rights on its board, while Nissan held only a 15 percent stake in Renault and no voting rights.
The arrangement has long been a sore spot for Nissan, which produces far more cars than Renault and argued it deserved to have a more equivalent role in the relationship.
The agreement, Nissan said, would effectively equalize the companies’ shareholdings. Both would now hold 15 percent of the other, with Renault’s additional shares going into a French trust. The trust would be under no obligation to sell them, it said.
The companies will now also have equal voting rights, Nissan said.
Additionally, Nissan agreed to invest in Ampere, a Renault spinoff focused on developing electric vehicles and software. The company is expected to be publicly listed later this year.
The final agreement is pending approval by both companies’ boards.
The agreement is critical for the electric-vehicle ambitions of Renault, which is seeking to harness the engineering prowess and expertise of Nissan. In 2010 the Japanese automaker began producing the world’s first successful mass-market battery-electric vehicle, the Leaf, giving it a lead in the field that Renault cannot match.
The power imbalance between Renault and Nissan was widely seen as a catalyst for the downfall of Mr. Ghosn, who has said that he was the victim of a coup by Nissan insiders who feared he would merge the two companies. Mr. Ghosn fled Japan for Lebanon in late 2019 after being arrested on charges of financial wrongdoing related to his role as head of the alliance.
For a time, the incident looked like it could end the alliance. But the economic blow of the pandemic forced the companies to draw closer together.
Last year, Renault and Nissan, along with their third alliance partner, Mitsubishi, agreed to throw themselves into the development of electric vehicles, with plans to release 35 battery-electric models by 2030.
But Nissan was slow to agree to invest in Ampere. After media reports last fall revealed that Nissan and Renault were at loggerheads over the project, Renault released a statement saying that the two sides were discussing “a set of strategic common initiatives across markets, products, and technologies,” including Nissan’s role in the new company.
On Monday, Renault called the deal with Nissan “an important milestone in its discussions on defining new foundations for their partnership.”