(c) 2013, Bloomberg News.

(c) 2013, Bloomberg News.

PARIS Renault, France's second-largest automaker, announced Chief Operating Officer Carlos Tavares will step down from his post two weeks after publicly saying that he would like to run General Motors or Ford.

Tavares, 55, is leaving "to pursue other personal projects," the Boulogne-Billancourt, France-based company said in an emailed statement. Chief Executive Officer Carlos Ghosn, 59, "will temporarily carry out the duties" of COO, Renault said.

Tavares said in a Bloomberg interview published Aug. 14 that Ghosn planned to stay at Renault for the foreseeable future and therefore was interested in running GM or Ford instead. Raluca Barb, a Renault spokeswoman, said a replacement hasn't been chosen.

Tavares was appointed to the post two years ago after former COO Patrick Pelata had to resign over a botched spy scandal in which three senior managers were wrongfully dismissed. Tavares joined Renault more than 30 years ago as a test-driving engineer and moved up through the ranks to eventually run the North American operations of Nissan, Renault's alliance partner.

"I read he was offering himself publicly to other companies, so it's not a big surprise," said Juergen Pieper, an analyst at Bankhaus Metzler. "It shows they have a very strong CEO personality. It's very difficult for other executives to get along with a strong CEO."

The stock has gained 34 percent this year, valuing the French carmaker at 16.1 billion euros ($21.3 billion).

Under Tavares, Renault reported unexpected growth in first- half profit as labor-cost reductions and higher vehicle prices more than offset an industrywide slump in European deliveries.

Tavares said in an interview last year that he wanted to expand the Renault group's offerings by adding two upscale brands to the automaker. Renault has since announced plans to revive the Alpine sports-car marque and expand the Initiale Paris insignia into a luxury brand. Along with the namesake marque, the carmaker also own the Dacia no-frills make.

The COO was also instrumental in pushing through a deal with unions in March to cut its French workforce 17 percent and freeze wages in exchange for not closing domestic plants for three years. Renault is pushing for more sales outside Europe to reduce reliance on its home region.

"We have a big leader and he is here to stay," Tavares said in the Bloomberg interview of Ghosn. "Anyone who is passionate about the auto industry comes to a conclusion that there is a point where you have the energy and appetite for a No. 1 position."

When Tavares oversaw North America for Nissan, 43 percent owned by Renault, he helped the company earn 209 billion yen ($2.2 billion) in the region in the year ended March 2010, versus a 46.7 billion yen loss in 2009. During the downturn, he retained experienced factory hands by persuading them to work four days a week instead of five, with a 20 percent pay cut.

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