Scandal hits Renault, write Paul Gover and Neil Dowling
THE future of Renault’s electric cars has been rocked by a spy scandal involving three of its senior executives.
Renault is one of the world leaders in plug-in power, thanks in part to its global alliance with Daimler of Germany and Nissan, which has the battery-powered Leaf as its green flagship.
It is pushing several future cars with electric power, led by the great-looking DeZir coupe that starred for the brand at last year’s Paris Motor Show.
But its technology could have been leaked in a case of industrial espionage that has outraged many people in France, led by Industry Minister Eric Besson.
He says the automotive scandal has led France to the brink of ‘‘economic war’’ and is also angry because Renault receives public money for some projects, including its electric vehicle program.
Renault and Nissan spend an estimated $400 million a year on EV work as part of a total research- and-development budget of $5.5 billion. Investigation into the electric technology leak began more than four months ago and Bloomberg News reports that the highest ranking of the three suspended executives is Michel Balthazard, vice-president for advance engineering and a member of Renault’s management committee.
Balthazard, a 30-year veteran, began his career at Renault in 1980 in the body engineering department.
The employees are now being given the chance to respond to the ac- cusations, before any further action is taken.
The espionage allegation comes as Renault plans to launch another three electric vehicles this year as part of a plan to lead real-world sales.
‘‘The Renault-Nissan Alliance is developing a complete range of 100 per cent electric powertrains with power ratings of between 15kW and 100kW,’’ it says. Electric vehicles planned for this year include the Kangoo Express ZE van, the Fluence mid-size sedan and the Twizy small car.
In 2012, Renault plans to expand that electric line-up with a new city car before taking electric power to all of its vehicle lines.
Future car: the snazzy-looking electric DeZir.