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France

Spying targeted business strategy, not technology, Renault chief says

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2011-01-23

In his first comments on allegations of industrial espionage at French carmaker Renault, chief executive Carlos Ghosn said the suspected spying targeted the company's business strategy for electric cars and not its technological secrets.

Renault’s business strategy for its electric cars was the target of industrial espionage, the French carmaker's chief executive Carlos Ghosn said in an interview published on Sunday. But in his first direct response to the spying case that has become a matter of state, Ghosn denied claims that company executives had leaked technological secrets to rivals.

"We have come to the conclusion that what got out was not technological information. It could be information on our economic model," Ghosn told the French Sunday newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche, adding that Renault was the only company to make all three key elements of an electric car – batteries, motors and chargers.

The car executive also refused to confirm or deny widely spread rumours that the company’s secrets were being traded to Chinese rivals.

French media reported in early January that President Nicolas Sarkozy’s office had asked the country’s intelligence agency to investigate a possible Chinese link in the industrial espionage case.

Renault, along with Japanese partner Nissan, have staked their future on the success of electric cars and have invested a reported 4 billion euros in this technology.

Ghosn insisted in the interview that Renault’s electric car line had a “global edge” over all other companies, and that its technological advantage “interested many people” and made it a prime target of spying attempts.

Company shake-up

On January 7, Renault confirmed that it had suspended three top managers suspected of leaking secrets on electric cars. The three executives have said they are suing over the allegations.

Asked if the scandal had hurt the company’s image, Ghosn said the questionable actions of a few people were not representative of the hard work of Renault’s work force. He also said car sales for 2010 had been the best in the company’s history.

The former Nissan CEO said he had been "surprised and shocked" by the affair, but he insisted that by investigating the matter Renault had been "irreproachable under the law."

Ghosn said Renault had launched an internal probe in August but waited until this month to alert the authorities because "we had to do preliminary research ourselves to get an idea of how serious the affair was."

Ghosn was speaking out for the first time since news of the affair broke out.

The allegations of industrial espionage have become a matter of state, with French Industry Minister Eric Besson claiming the country was the target of "economic war", and ruling UMP party legislators calling for stronger laws to prevent economic information from falling into foreign hands.

Date created : 2011-01-23

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