Economic war over electric cars
High powered drama in the corporate world as three senior Renault execs are accused of industrial espionage. Iman Kurdi of Arab News explains why this really can be called an economic war.
January 9, 2011 1:53 by Samuel Potter
Renault have invested an estimated four billion euros in electric car technology. They are gambling that they can both produce batteries that run longer and more efficiently and that they can drastically bring down the cost per kilowatt hour of battery capacity, eventually bringing it down to the crucial $200 mark that would reportedly make them as competitive as petrol cars. With that in mind, you can easily see why major leaks to their competitors about battery technology could be catastrophic for the company.
But are electric cars really the modern elixir to cure all automotive ills? For a start, are they as green as they are marketed? I am not so sure. Yes, an electric car may have zero emissions, but what about the generation of the electricity needed to power the car? Are they any better than hybrids or cars run on alternative fuels or very efficient petrol cars? Probably so, but their green credentials are possibly a little overstated. The market for electric cars is being created as much by political will as by commercial demand. Let’s call it capitalizing on an opportunity. If you can create a market segment of 10 percent of global car sales, you are creating a great opportunity for economic development for a country that can produce the technological know-how to become that market’s leader.
Renault have invested the most, closely followed by China, where the government has put in place a programme to develop electric cars bringing together 16 state-owned auto manufacturers with an earmarked investment of $15 billion over ten years.
So now the French secret service is investigating a case of industrial espionage and pointing the finger, at least in their initial response, to China. Given the stakes involved is it any wonder Besson has called it economic war? We live in interesting times, as the Chinese saying goes.