Public policies have always played a crucial role in the development path of the automobile industry. Traditionally, states have used industrial policies, trade policies, fiscal policy, transport policies, safety rules and financial regulation to influence the production and sales of vehicles.
These policies, like all public policies, have been influenced by the general historical context in which they were embedded: Industrial and technological policies to promote national champions were favoured during the Fordist era then fell into disgrace when the neoliberal agenda became dominant in the eighties and gave priority to free trade, competition and financial deregulation. The last international crisis of 2008-2009 heralded a renewal of industrial policies since it was deemed as not only a financial but a structural crisis: the economic, political, social and environmental dimensions interacted and called for an automobile revolution, as the GERPISA said in its previous conferences, or at least that critical decisions would be taken by governments to initiate a radical change.
US President Obama, for instance, at the start of his first term, announced a renewal of public policies intended to accelerate take up of alternative technologies for car engines, subsidies for the sales of electric cars and new regulations to improve the mileage per gallon of gas of the existing vehicle fleet. Similar policies were announced in the European Union and developed at national levels by its member-states. In the BRICS, being China a central case in point, such an acceleration was seen as an opportunity to favour indigenous producers or existing technological champions like in India. Additional regulations have been taken regarding car use to give a legal status to car sharing and new forms of mobility. But it seems that the initial impetus has been lost as the economy was recovering and car sales were booming. Unexpected events such as the recent fall of oil prices added to a general feeling that, after all, there was not such urgency to speed up a paradigmatic shift of the automobile industry. On top of that, political events such as the radical change in the US policies announced by the new President Donald Trump will release pressure on the necessity to develop alternative energy-saving vehicles and use at least in the USA. One could think that this would lead to a return of the automobile “business as usual” and that the necessity to change the automobile paradigm is already gone. However, the repeated pollution peaks choking people in Beijing and to a lesser extent in Paris and many other metropolitan cities are a reminder of the urgency to change the cars we produce and use. The scandal of the cheating of emission test (Dieselgate) is also a clear example of the reluctance of some carmakers and parts producers to really engage in a radical shift of the automobile paradigm but also, at least in the European case, the reluctance of states to actually enforce the law and push for a change in a context of sluggish economic recovery at the world level.
These recent and contradictory events call for a comprehensive and detail analysis of public policies to see if they have hastened or slowed down the change of the automobile paradigm. What is the discourse of public authorities? What is the concrete outcome of the decisions announced and taken in the wake of the international crisis? Were they implemented or abandoned? Did they prove successful or did they fail? What was the reaction and lobbying strategy of the actors of the automobile sector in the broad sense (carmakers, part suppliers, energy producers, wholesale and retail sale companies, banks, consumer organisations…)? Were these actors able to influence significantly new laws and regulations? Were they able to avoid their implementation?
We welcome all contributions that attempt to answer these questions regarding public policies in the field of state aids, technology, car use and mobility and pollution and environmental issues. Public authorities must be understood in the broad sense: Supranational, national, regional and cities can and should be included. Chamber of commerce, lobbies, consumer organisations, NGOs and other social actors should also be covered. Although the focus should be on the Great Recession and its outcome, analysis of previous historical periods of structural change and crisis (1900s, 1930s, 1970s, 1990s) are important to understand the logic of state and politics in the periods of transformation in the architecture(s) of automobile markets.
Concéption Tommaso Pardi
Administration Géry Deffontaines