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Friday, February 11, 2011

Renault 'spy' row over electric car costs

Alleged spying at French car maker Renault may have targeted the costs involved in making electric cars, its chief executive said in an interview published Friday.

Renault and its Japanese partner Nissan have staked their future on electric vehicles and plan to launch several models by 2014 to meet rapidly rising demand for more environmentally friendly methods of transport.

Renault has sacked three top managers in the past month over alleged industrial espionage and has launched legal action. The three executives have denied the allegations and struck back with lawsuits for defamation.

It has so far not given details on what the men allegedly disclosed, saying only that the case concerned the economic model, rather than the technology, for electric cars.

"The most interesting information I can have about a competitor is the cost," Renault chief executive Carlos Ghosn said in the interview with the Wall Street Journal.

He was answering a question on why information about the economic model was so sensitive.

"For example for a battery, the most important element is the cost per kilowatt. From the cost per kilowatt I may guess what kind of technology you're developing," he was quoted as saying by the US business daily.

"All that action that has been taken by the company is designed to protect the company," Ghosn said.

He added that it was now up to prosecutors to figure out exactly who was responsible for what.

"Who did what and how exactly, it's not up to us to decide," the Renault chief said. "Today, all the elements are in the hands of the justice department and it's for the prosecutor to determine the different responsibilities."

Renault and Nissan, of which Ghosn is also chief executive officer, are aiming for annual capacity of 500,000 electric cars by 2015 at the latest, the Wall Street Journal said.

But much uncertainty remains over how fast the cars will take off, as the batteries that power them are still prohibitively expensive for most consumers, the paper said.

It added that though Nissan's Leaf electric vehicle went on sale last year, Renault is still waiting to release its first models later this year.

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