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COMMENT: Renault quiet as secret storm brews

By Simon Warburton | 7 January 2011

As if the Renault "industrial espionage" story wasn't extraordinary enough - and the flames have been fanned further by France's Industry Minister throwing in "economic war" to the mix - it seems the country's secret services may now be getting involved.

A French media in meltdown is widely - or wildly - speculating the Direction Centrale du Renseignement Interieur (DCRI) or secret services are now examining the affair, although other media say they are not.

And while Renault prefers - understandably - not to focus on the phrase "industrial espionage," surrounding the suspension of its three senior executives, France's Industry Minister Eric Besson certainly did use the term, linking it also to "economic intelligence."

However, despite efforts to track down the DCRI - the organisation is well, pretty secretive and doesn't easily give interviews to the press.

But - perhaps in tune with the shadowy world the DCRI inhabits - other 'sources' in France indicate the DCRI is very much on the case to act in France's best interests.

Widespread speculation has hinted there may be a Chinese involvement and that electric vehicles are behind the situation, hence the secret services' interest.

"The sub-directorate of the DCRI's economic protection is on the spot," says the mysterious French source, who apparently is 'close' to the matter. "The defence of interests and of national economic heritage are part of the DCRI's mission."

Renault is remaining tight-lipped as to what exactly is at the heart of the so-called 'espionage' but speculation in France is centering on battery technology for electric vehicles.

French Industry Minister Eric Besson certainly mentioned EVs in his address to national radio - "it seems it concerns electric vehicles,' he said, while also thundering about "economic war."

Industrial espionage has been around as long as there has been industry. Towards the end of last year for example, a former Ford employee pleaded guilty in a US Federal Court to two counts of trade secrets thefts.

Every country reacts with righteous indignation every time one of its treasured icons appears to be involved with the murky world of spying and secrets.

The DCRI may well - or may not - be cranking up its considerable powers to shed some light on this strange affair in order to protect one of France's prize assets - its auto industry.

Renault certainly isn't saying - a spokeswoman for the company declined to make any comment in Paris to just-auto today on any potential DCRI involvement.

Renault-Nissan through its flagship Leaf programme is one of the ground-breakers in EV technology. And there's no doubt battery technology is going to become an economic battleground in the years ahead.

Espionage, economic war and the secret services. A distinctly unordinary week for Renault.