Shortly after 9 p.m., as the sun began to set on the rotund glass facade housing Renault SA’s headquarters on the outskirts of Paris, the board called a break. The group had gathered for the second time in as many days to sign off on a proposed merger with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. As the talks dragged on, a delegate for the state asked to liaise with Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, who was having dinner back in town at his hulking ministry protruding into the River Seine.
Le Maire laid down a red line for Martin Vial, his representative at the table and the voice of Renault’s biggest and most powerful shareholder.
France wanted a commitment from Renault partner Nissan Motor Co. to back the combination. Abstention -- as signaled earlier by the Japanese side -- wasn’t good enough, Le Maire said, fearing that Nissan might begin undermining the alliance if it couldn’t be held accountable with a firm vote.
Back in the conference room, the servings of sushi and pizza sourced by security guards had lost their appeal by the time the group reconvened around 11 p.m. The mood, too, was drab. It quickly became clear that Nissan would, in fact, abstain in a vote. When the turn came to Vial to speak, he presented the panel with the government’s game plan.
The minister saw an opening to get Nissan on board: over the weekend, G-20 finance ministers are gathering in Fukuoka, Japan, and Le Maire wanted to use his persuasive powers to win over the Japanese partner. Then, to everyone’s surprise and some annoyance, Vial suggested they postpone the vote and reconvene the following week after Le Maire had returned.
NO MORE PATIENCE
Over in Italy, meanwhile, FCA Chairman John Elkann’s patience was wearing thin. The scion of the Agnelli family and disciple of the late Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne was also getting updates on the meeting back in Paris, and to him, this latest government curve ball was one too many. Elkann had spent weeks stitching together the deal with Renault CEO Jean-Dominique Senard, keeping the French government closely informed, and felt that he had met their demands at every turn.