China Denies Involvement in Renault Breach, as Electric Vehicle Spy Scandal Heats Up

· · 9 years ago

Renault is expected to file criminal complaints tomorrow in response to a massive theft of technology and data from the French auto giant's $5.3 billion joint electric vehicle program with Nissan.

Three Renault executives have been suspended on suspicion of involvement in the affair and are rumored to have accepted hundreds of thousands of euros laundered from a Chinese power company in exchange for facilitating the leaks.

The stolen information is said to center around Renault-Nissan's advanced vehicle battery program, including valuable secrets detailing designs from Nissan and LG that are still in the pre-patent stage of development.

The Stuff of Spy Novels

Battery technology certainly could be of use to an energy company looking to benefit from lucrative government contracts related to vehicle charging infrastructure. Yet, payments were funneled through several accounts before reaching the accused executives, raising questions about additional layers of subterfuge in a scheme possibly involving another carmaker or even the central government.

China is considered by many security analysts to be a hot zone for industrial espionage—with the government itself falling under suspicion of stealing information from global auto industry partners.

Regardless of whether there's any validity to conspiracy theories about Beijing's involvement in this international EV intrigue, the Chinese government arguably has definitely allocated resources to stoking domestic electric vehicle production—providing adequate incentive for companies in that country to seek any advantage they can get in the race to beat competitors to valuable contracts and incentives.

Though still considered to be behind in the plug-in vehicle race, China is closing ground quickly thanks to partnerships its auto companies have formed with foreign OEMs, government-facilitated technology-sharing between those companies—and at least according to some—the rampant stealing of trade secrets by Chinese companies.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Renault's global partner Nissan is said to have sparred with Beijing last year over its demand that foreign car companies share their EV technology as a condition of building and selling plug-ins in the country, now the largest automotive market in the world.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei (see photo) yesterday called accusations said that any accusation levied against China are “totally groundless, irresponsible and unacceptable.”

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