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Renault Fluence ZE production electric sedan

Renault Fluence ZE production electric sedan

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Monday morning opened on an anxious note for French automaker Renault.

The company said it suspended without pay three executives, who have not yet been named.

It fears that details and intellectual property connected to its comprehensive electric-vehicle program were leaked to unnamed parties, presumably other automakers developing their own electric vehicles.

Renault Fluence ZE production electric sedan

Renault Fluence ZE production electric sedan

Enlarge Photo

It suspended the executives after an investigation that began just before Labor Day, when its compliance committee received what a spokesman called an "ethical alert."

The company has not yet concluded whether there was actual "wrongdoing" on the part of the employees in question, though an unnamed source told Reuters the three were "caught red-handed."

Renault Fluence ZE production electric sedan

Renault Fluence ZE production electric sedan

Enlarge Photo

One of the three suspended executives sat on the carmaker's management committee, according to reports, while the other two were managers.

Renault's fear is that the technology is being stolen by, as its spokesman put it, "new players from emerging countries"--a subtle reference to China's official goal of becoming a dominant player in electric vehicles over the next few decades.

Renault and its alliance partner Nissan have placed by far the biggest bet on battery electric vehicles made by any global automakers. While investment is often hard to calculate, the UK's Financial Times estimates their investment at more than $5 billion to date.

Renault Fluence ZE production electric sedan

Renault Fluence ZE production electric sedan

Enlarge Photo

CEO Carlos Ghosn has frequently predicted that electric vehicles will represent 10 percent of global production by 2020, a number considered audaciously high by most industry analysts.

With the delivery of the first 2011 Nissan Leaf to a California customer, the Leaf is set to wrest the title of the world's best-selling electric car from the Mitsubishi 'i' sometime this year.

Between them, Renault and Nissan plan to launch eight separate electric cars over the next four years, including Renault's Fluence ZE electric midsize sedan.

[Wire service reports via Automotive News (subscription required); Financial Times (login required)]



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