Fiat Chrysler pitched a finely balanced merger of equals to Renault on Monday in a move to cope with the costs of far-reaching technological and regulatory changes by creating the world's third-biggest carmaker.
After the news broke, shares in Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) soared 18 percent when the Milan stock exchange opened on Monday, before falling back slightly.
The Italian-American group's plan, which was finalized in overnight talks with Renault, will be discussed at a meeting of the French company's board on Monday. The world's two biggest automakers, Volkswagen and Toyota Motor, each topped 10 million vehicles previous year.
The proposed merger would create the third largest global OEM. Nissan's stake in Renault comes with no voting rights, though. Both companies reported lower deliveries in the first quarter.
Fiat Chrysler has for months been the subject of merger speculation, with PSA Peugeot also reportedly interested.
France's influential CGT union warned against cuts should a deal go through, and said it wants the French government to retain a blocking stake in any new company.
A deal could help both companies address some of the shortcomings that have led their market valuations to lag major rivals, as well as the shift to electric and self-driving technologies amid tightening emissions regulations.
In a statement, the Italian auto manufacturer said the merged company would be 50% owned by FCA shareholders and 50% by Renault shareholders.
Renault, by contrast, is an electric-car pioneer with relatively fuel-efficient engine technologies and a strong presence in emerging markets, but no US business.
FCA said joining forces would make the automakers a global leader in electric vehicle technologies, premium brands, SUVs, pickup trucks and light commercial vehicles and would have a broader and more balanced global presence than either company on a standalone basis.
The French firm is understood to have pushed for a full merger, which the Japanese group has resisted in the wake of the arrest in Tokyo of Carlos Ghosn, its former chairman, on charges of misconduct, which he denies.
Earlier, FCA said it had delivered a "non-binding letter" to the board of Groupe Renault proposing a combination of their respective businesses as a 50/50 merger.
That prospect did not play out, and it may be up to FCA to provide a relatively soft landing for Renault.
FCA-Renault, like nearly every possible automotive pairing, has been studied intermittently for years by dealmakers. Nissan sold 5.65 million cars past year, more than Renault's 3.88 million units, but its profitability has been on the decline. Between long-time alliance partners Renault and Nissan, the latter is the larger of the two, but Renault owns 43% of the Japanese carmaker, which in turn owns 15% of Renault.
A tie-up between FCA and Renault would not preclude a consolidation of the alliance with Nissan, one of the sources said.
Seeking to soothe concerns, FCA said the deal plans "are not predicated on plant closures, but would be achieved through more capital-efficient investment". It also raises fresh questions about Nissan's influence in the Alliance.
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