Li Industry Espionage Allegations Raise the Stakes


"Three auto execs face allegations of leaking EV information to China."

Last week, three executives from French automotive manufacturer Renault were suspended after being suspected of leaking information on its electric vehicle program to China. The electric vehicle (EV) program is a key factor for the carmaker's strategy. Combined together with Japanese partner Nissan Motor Co. it is investing billions of euros in the project. A Renault-Nissan alliance was originally established in March 1999, serving as the first industrial and commercial partnership of its kind involving French and Japanese companies. Renault and Nissan announced that they are working together on EV development on December 22, 2006.

Lithium investors will appreciate that the stakes are elevated in these circumstances, with some analysts suggesting that electric and hybrid cars may grab as much as 10% of the European automobile market by 2020. In China, the government has already committed to investing heavily in the electric vehicle industry. Many analysts are expecting China to be at the leading edge of demand for these vehicles in the future as the domestic market for electric bikes and electric motorcycles already dwarfs demand from all other regions combined, and consists of 98% of the global market, despite being in the early adoption stage.

A senior employee at Renault has since denied any involvement in industrial espionage after allegations that the three executives leaked any such green car technology secrets. Michel Balthazard, who is vice-president of advanced engineering at Renault, said the company had not yet made any decision about whether to fire him. Following a meeting with Renault management on Tuesday, Mr. Balthazard indicated "Renault is bringing very serious accusations against me, which I deny totally". Renault has said it is studying all legal options and will probably press charges, after meeting all of the suspended employees on Tuesday afternoon.

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