French automaker Renault, which just suspended three senior managers for possibly leaking secrets about its electric car project, has said that industrial espionage poses a grave threat to the company’s “strategic assets.”

Renault’s senior vice president Christian Husson told Agence France Presse that the decision to suspend the executives without pay was designed protect, without delay, the strategic, intellectual and technological assets of our company,

Adding gravitas to the matter, France’s Industry Minister Eric Besson warned that the situation at Renault appears serious” and that France may be confronting an economic war.

[It] illustrates the risks of industrial spying faced by companies, Besson told a French radio station. It appears to concern the electric car, but I do not want to go further,

Besson also said that French companies which receive public funds needs to upgrade their security.
Renault and its partner Nissan Motor Co. of Japan have made significant investments in electric car technology (about 4-billion euros) and plan to introduce new vehicles to the market over the next two years.

In particular, Renault seeks to launch an electric version of its Fluence model as well as its Kangoo Express van in 2011.

Carlos Ghosn, the head of Renault, has said he thinks electric vehicles will comprise 10 percent of the global auto market within a decade.