Renault SA has suspended three executives amid fears that its electric vehicles program may have been subject to industrial espionage.
A management committee member and two other managers were suspended without pay Jan. 3 on the recommendation of the automaker's compliance committee, Renault spokeswoman Caroline De Gezelle told Bloomberg News on Wednesday.
One of the suspended executives works on the automaker's the program for electric vehicles, Agence-France Presse reported, citing a source close to the matter.
A source close to the company told Reuters: "It involves people who were caught red-handed for industrial espionage." The source added: "Renault is a victim in this story. The group is a bit worried about its electric vehicle program -- it hopes that its leadership in this technology won't be threatened."
Renault, with Japanese alliance partner Nissan Motor Co., is a fierce proponent of EV technology, with the companies jointly investing 4 billion euros ($5.3 billion) in their flagship EV programs.
Renault aims to become the first volume automaker to make electric vehicles available to the mass market with plans to build more than 200,000 EVs a year by 2015-2016. This year, the automaker will launch three EVs in Europe -- the Fluence sedan, Kangoo delivery van and two-seat Twizy. Nissan currently is rolling out its Leaf hatchback globally.
De Gezelle told Bloomberg News: “The investigation was prompted by an ethics alert in August.” She declined to comment further on the alleged infringements or to identify the individuals.
Renault's management committee, subordinate to the nine-member executive committee, had 27 members as of Dec. 1, according to the company's Web site.
A second source close to Renault said told Reuters that an "ethical alert" could mean a fellow employee warning the compliance committee that an individual's behavior threatened the company.
"It means that at a given moment their personal behavior, whether in their activity within Renault or in their external dealings, could threaten Renault's internal competencies or indeed its development of projects or products," the source said.
The behavior in question could involve leaks of information "but not necessarily only that," the source said.