French carmaker Renault has suspended three executives over ethical lapses, causing government alarm about industrial espionage. Industry Minister Eric Besson said the situation at Renault seems "serious."
Renault has invested heavily in electric vehicle technology
French car manufacturer Renault suspended three executives at the beginning of the week over "serious" ethical lapses, as part of an investigation into suspected industrial espionage. The company is apparently worried that its flagship electric vehicle program may have been compromised.
French Industry Minister Eric Besson told France's RTL radio on Thursday that the matter "seems serious."
"It illustrates once again the risks our companies face in terms of industrial espionage and economic intelligence," Besson said.
Besson added that French industry as a whole was at risk. He said the incident amounted to "economic warfare." The case demonstrated "the risks our companies face from industrial espionage and corporate intelligence," he added.
"The expression 'economic warfare,' while sometimes extreme, is for once appropriate, and this is something we should monitor in future."
Renault said that the matter concerned people with "particularly strategic" positions within the company. The three executives were suspended on Monday following an internal investigation which began last August.
The alarm was raised by an "ethics alert" sent to the company's compliance committee. The three are suspected to have breached Renault's code of ethics.
Renault sees the future in purely electric vehicles
Renault said in a statement that the behavior of the suspended employees "consciously and deliberately put company assets at risk."
Renault, along with its Japanese alliance partner Nissan, has invested heavily in electric vehicle technology. The two companies have spent 4 billion euros ($5.3 billion) on their flagship program.
The technology behind the vehicles is especially prized; Both Renault and Nissan plan to launch a number of new electric vehicles over the next two years. They say that purely electric vehicles are the best long-term solution to reducing carbon emissions from cars.
By contrast, their rivals General Motors and Toyota, the world's largest car manufacturers, are instead investing in so-called hybrid vehicles, which use a combined electric and petrol engine.
Author: Joanna Impey (AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Nancy Isenson