Publication Type:

Conference Paper


Gerpisa colloquium, Paris (2020)


The current mobility system regime, based on individual internal combustion engine cars, is the main contributor to climate change and other sustainability challenges, such as air pollution, road congestion and competition for public space. Despite the resistance of this model (much of it, the result of the automotive industry conservative behavior), there are many initiatives, in many different fields of mobility systems, which indicate possible future change in this persistent regime. (Manders, Wieczorek and Verbong, 2018; Orsato et. al. 2011)
The complexity of the automotive sector has grown dramatically in the last years. Two worlds are colliding: on the one hand, the traditional world of carmakers, OEMs and car related distribution and services, which is dealing with the electrification and digitalization of cars, the digitalization of production and value chains, the transformations of mobility systems and more constraining environmental and transport regulations; on the other hand, the world of ICT, which is entering the automotive sector in many different ways and could change its structure and the very nature of its business.
In addition, regional, national and supra national governments are pushing more strict environmental regulations, while public pressure for better, cleaner and less inequality in mobility systems increases. To summarize, auto industry is presently confronting deep uncertainty (Teece, 2018)
Transition for a sustainable mobility system is a complex process and it does not simply "happen", it is the outcome of pressures from landscape and up-scaling of niche innovations and experimentations, where the role of supportive coalitions driving the transition is fundamental. No single actor has enough resources (expertise, money, legitimacy, organization or leadership) to make such transition happen. (Roberts et al, 2018). But in the case of mobility systems, the role of automotive industry is central to transition. Automotive industry is globally powerful enough to foster or hinder policies aiming to develop more sustainable mobility systems, especially in producer countries, where they are central to GDP.
The relation among automotive industry and different actors involved in transitions and how to coordinate and align the different incentives for those actors, are the core of this article. The intended contribution is to address some fundamental gaps in Transitions Theory using Institutional Theory, notably, how transitions occur and the role of firms in the
process. The role of automakers acting as meso-institutions (Ménard, 2014) in driving transitions is the main theoretical contribution.
Therefore, we analyzed Brazilian, German and Chinese cases regarding sustainable urban mobility transitions. To accomplish this goal, we analyzed the diffusion level and different characteristics that explain the current development level of three niches: electro mobility, mobility as a service and innovation in public transportation. Using the multiple case study method, we compared the sustainable mobility initiatives and innovations undertaken automotive companies in Brazil, China and in Germany.
Our main conclusion is that automakers, when defining their strategies from an institutional context analysis, act as a translation and deployment device for macro level institutions, leading to diverse regimes in different regions, but all those regimes intend to maintain the current one. The role of automotive companies is crucial as a meso-institution, but exogenous actors are gaining more space in developing niches that could transform current automotive regime.

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