Paris car-sharing scheme Autolib' has filed a criminal complaint accusing BMW of using spies to gather information on its electric cars.
The Bollore group said it had filed the industrial espionage complaint after two employees of a firm employed by BMW were spotted three times tampering with charging points and Autolib' vehicles parked in Paris.
BMW denied any wrongdoing.
Autolib' spokesman Jules Varin said: “We do not know for now what information they have been able to gather or the technologies that they have used.
“All we can say is that Bollore is ahead in several technologies in which we have invested a lot of money, including the battery and the geo-location system,” he said.
BMW says the two workers, employed by engineering firm P3 to prepare the launch for the upcoming i3 electric model, were “conducting routine tests across Europe to check the compatibility of charging points on public roads”.
The two men aroused suspicions when they were found tampering with a Bollore Bluecar on 21 August at a charging point in the city's ninth district.
When questioned by Autolib' staff, they replied in halting French that they worked for a German carmaker. They gave no name but were driving a German-registered BMW.
The next day they were spotted at another charging point but the Autolib' maintainance staff couldn’t catch them. They were finally arrested on 5 September in the city's seventh district.
The men were questioned by police but released the following day.
BMW said they had ordered the tests to be carried out in the first two cases but not on the final day when they were arrested.
The Autolib' service was started in December 2011 and deploys battery-powered cars for public use on a paid subscription basis, based around a citywide network of parking and charging stations.
The succesful scheme now has 34 000 subscribers, 1800 vehicles and about 4000 charging points in the French capital and its suburbs, and has been extended to other cities such as Lyon and Bordeaux.
There were nearly 6000 electric cars registered in France in 2012, of which a third were Autolib' vehicles, according to the Bollore group. - AFP