BMW has denied claims it used subcontracted engineers in France to obtain information on a rival's car-sharing service. Bollore filed a complaint with the Paris prosecutor after the technicians were detained and questioned by police in Paris on Sept. 5 on suspicion of industrial espionage against the company's Autolib' car-sharing scheme, according to media reports.
The reports said that suspicious activity was first spotted by members of the Autolib' staff on Aug. 21 and Aug. 22. That's when two technicians were apparently seen using computer equipment to conduct tests at EV recharging stations in Paris. The staff noted the men's license plate, which later helped identify them as employees of the P3 group.
P3 is an engineering firm contracted by BMW to help prepare the automaker for the launch of its first electric vehicle, the i3 city car.
BMW confirms that the men were examining the systems on Aug. 21 and Aug. 22, but the automaker maintains that the technicians were merely testing the compatibility of the recharging stations for the i3.
"Within the scope of the impending market launch of the BMW i3, BMW conducted tests throughout Europe to assess the compatibility of BMW electric vehicles with the publicly accessible charging stations of the various providers. These tests serve solely to identify the infrastructure of those operators with whom electric vehicles can be charged in future," BMW said in a statement.
BMW denies that it was conducting tests on Sept. 5, which is when the technicians were detained by police.
Bollore EV investment
"We don't know for now what information they gathered and what technologies they used ... All we can say is that [Bollore] has a headstart on several technologies in which we have invested a lot of money, including the battery and geolocation systems," an Autolib' spokesman told the UK's Telegraph newspaper.
Bollore uses lithium-metal-polymer technology in the construction of its batteries, rather than the more common lithium ion units used by most carmakers. Last week, the group announced plans to join forces with Renault to bid for electric car-sharing contracts and to assemble battery-powered vehicles in France.
Autolib', which was launched in Paris in late 2011 and whose electric car stations dot the city, has 100,000 clients. The car-sharing business offers customers short-term rentals of its Bluecar minicar.