Nissan says confident in Renault's handling of spy ring

10th January 2011, Comments 0 comments

Nissan has confidence in how Renault is handling an international spy ring's attempt to steal secrets about their shared electric car program, a top executive said Sunday.

"Our partner is very focused on making sure they understand what went wrong," said Carlos Tavares, chairman of Nissan's Americas division.

"We at Nissan trust that our partner Renault will do the right thing to fix it."

French automaker Renault has suspended three top managers for allegedly leaking secrets about its electric car program to China.

Renault number two Patrick Pelata told Saturday's Le Monde daily that "no nugget of technological or strategic information" were stolen by the "professional" spy ring, but said details of the design and costs of the vehicles could have been leaked.

Tavares said it was "premature to comment on what is being investigated" but acknowledged the incident was troubling.

"It makes us even more sensitive to what could happen anywhere," he told reporters on the sidelines of the SAA Automotive Outlook conference in Detroit, Michigan.

"Nissan has its own policy to make sure that we protect all the assets we're supposed to protect," he added.

"Of course we are cautious and we take into consideration everything we learn and what may have happened at Renault."

While any incident of industrial espionage is troubling and could give a competitor an unfair advantage, Nissan's the electric vehicle program is at a less sensitive stage now that the all-electric Leaf is available to buyers.

"Any technology that can give a company leadership in its own market - it's very sensitive by definition," Tavares said.

"But in the case of Nissan, our technology is already in the hands of our customers because we are already in the market."

Renault and its Japanese partner Nissan have staked their future on electric vehicles and plan to launch several models by 2014 to meet the rapidly rising demand for more environmentally-friendly methods of transport.

They have invested four billion euros (5.2 billion dollars) in the program.

Tavares said he welcomed rival Ford's announcement Friday that it plans to begin selling an all-electric Focus late this year in North America.

"Welcome to the club," he said, noting that the move by Ford helps put to rest the argument that fully electric cars can't compete with range-extended plug-in hybrids.

"We are extremely happy to have competitors in full electric," he said. "It's good for society, it's good for the industry, it's good for the energy management, it's good to speed up the development of the technology, it's good for everybody."

Nissan will benefit significantly from the fact that it was the first major automaker to bring an electric car to the key US market.

"As we have seen in other situations, when you bring an innovation with a specific technology the benefit of the leader is much higher than what the followers gain," he said.

The Leaf also benefits from the fact that it is an "extremely mature product" and a "real car where there are no tradeoffs."

Nissan began selling the Leaf in the United States and Japan last month and will introduce it to Europe later this yea.

It has already sold out the 20,000 Leafs designated for the US market this year. While the early models will be built in Japan, Nissan is expanding operations at its Tennessee plant which will have an annual capacity of 150,000 Leafs and 200,000 battery packs by 2013.

© 2011 AFP

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