Renault board set to approve De Meo as CEO

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PARIS — Renault is ready to name Luca de Meo, formerly the head of Volkswagen Group’s Seat brand, as its new CEO as soon as this week, sources with knowledge of the negotiations told Automotive News Europe.

Renault’s board is meeting Tuesday afternoon to discuss appointing de Meo as the automaker’s CEO, Reuters reported.

De Meo will not take up his post at Renault until closer to July, according to Reuters.

De Meo, 52, emerged as favorite for the post early in December but a noncompete clause has held up the appointment.

Renault and Volkswagen have reached an agreement on the noncompete clause, according to the Automotive News Europe sources. 

The French newspaper Le Figaro reported Tuesday that De Meo will be prohibited from disclosing competitive information for five months and must spend that time at his home before officially starting at Renault. His nomination will need to be approved at Renault’s general shareholders’ meeting in April, the paper said.

A person at Renault who had interviewed De Luca told Le Figaro that he “had a vision for the automotive industry and for marketing that the company really needs.” 

The Italian executive stepped down as Seat CEO on Jan 7 but remained with VW Group.

VW Group CEO Herbert Diess said on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos last week that de Meo was probably in talks with Renault about moving to the French automaker. “We are very, very sad that Luca is leaving us because he played a very important role in the group,” Diess said.

De Meo’s success in making Seat profitable helped to make him Renault board’s preferred candidate for the CEO post. He has led Seat to record vehicle sales, including 517,600 in 2018, an 11 percent increase from 2017. He also speaks French and started his career at Renault before working for Toyota and Fiat.

De Meo takes over at Renault at a critical time, with profits and sales down and deep questions about the future of its 20-year alliance with Nissan.

His appointment will help Renault to move on from turmoil surrounding the arrest, detention — and dramatic flight from Japan — of former CEO and Chairman Carlos Ghosn.

Renault CFO Clothilde Delbos has been interim CEO since the board ousted Thierry Bollore in October. Bollore became CEO in January 2019, following the arrest and detention of Ghosn in November 2018 Japan on charges of violating financial laws.

Ghosn’s arrest revealed deep divisions in Renault’s alliance with Nissan, with some at Renault accusing Nissan of masterminding a plot to remove Ghosn.

The declining financial performance of the Japanese automaker under Hiroto Saikawa, the CEO at the time, had started to become a concern at Renault, which is the controlling partner in the alliance. Nissan’s profits fell by 45 percent for the fiscal year ending in March 2019. Renault holds a 43 percent stake in Nissan, which in turn has 15 percent of Renault, but does not have voting rights, a limitation that has rankled executives in Japan.

At Renault, third-quarter revenue fell by 1.6 percent, and full-year sales were down by 3.4 percent. Renault’s 2019 financial results will be released Feb. 14.

Delbos has announced a far-reaching strategic review in which “nothing is off the table.”

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