Exide Corp. pleaded guilty to fraud conspiracy charges and will pay a $27.5-million fine over five years to end a U.S. criminal investigation into auto battery sales to former customer Sears, Roebuck & Co. The government investigated charges that the company manufactured a defective product that didn't meet the standard for DieHard batteries. The case grew out of earlier investigations that Exide, the largest maker of automotive batteries, conspired with Sears to sell used batteries as new, and former Exide officials engaged in bribery to conceal the fraud. Princeton, N.J.-based Exide, which is changing its name to Exide Technologies, was the chief supplier of such models as the DieHard battery to the retailer from April 1994 until March 1999. Exide shares closed up 12 cents at $7.60 on the NYSE, before the news was released.