GM to talk with Renault-Nissan despite Wagoner's opposition

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The Independent Online

The board of General Motors, the world's largest car maker, overruled the scepticism of its chief executive Rick Wagoner and promised to pursue talks about a global alliance with Renault and Nissan "with an open mind".

But after a board meeting yesterday, the embattled Mr Wagoner said he would be leading the talks, easing speculation that he could be sidelined during the process and eventually pushed out all together.

He has come under fire from the rebel shareholder Kirk Kerkorian, who says a restructuring plan at the ailing car maker is not progressing fast enough. Mr Kerkorian, who owns 9.9 per cent of GM, tried to bounce the company into the Nissan-Renault alliance by making his plan public last week.

Mr Wagoner said: "We periodically receive interesting proposals and we owe it to the company and its shareholders to explore how they might work, and to objectively weigh the potential benefits and issues that each might present."

Nissan and Renault collaborate on the design of new vehicles and many of their models use common parts, cutting manufacturing costs and enabling the pair to squeeze better prices from suppliers. The deal revived the fortunes of Nissan and turned its chief executive Carlos Ghosn into the most sought-after executive in the car industry. He also now heads Renault, and would be expected to take a significant role at GM if it joins the alliance.

Mr Wagoner will meet Mr Ghosn in Detroit next Friday and talks are likely to continue through the summer. "General Motors has a lot of experience with different types of alliances, and some have provided significant benefits to GM's competitive position and financial strength," Mr Wagoner said. "We will enter into discussions with the managements of Renault and Nissan with an open mind - eager to hear their ideas of how an alliance between our companies might work to our mutual benefit."

Fritz Henderson, GM's chief financial officer and a potential successor to Mr Wagoner, had previously been expected to lead the group of executives and advisers looking at the possibility of a deal. The decision to interpose Mr Wagoner eased speculation over his position but also emphasised the seriousness with which the alliance proposal is being taken by the board.

Mr Wagoner's own plan to revive GM - which involves the closure of a dozen factories and 30,000 job losses - is running ahead of schedule but the company is continuing to lose money. Some analysts still believe it is at risk of falling into bankruptcy if it cannot stem its market share losses in the US.