Disruptive innovation in Mobility industry: a Case of Low-floor Tram and the comparison with automotive industry

Publication Type:

Conference Paper


Gerpisa colloquium, Paris (2020)


Automotive industry, disruptive innovation, Low-floor Tram, mobility, Public Transportation, Sustaining Innovation


Purpose of this research
In this paper, authors aims to elucidate 2 related findings. The first one is that the invention and the introduction of the Low-floor Tram can be treated as a representable case of the “Disruptive Innovation” (Christensen, 1997) in the mobility industry. The second one is that all the innovation occurred in automotive industry for long time has been taken as “Sustaining Innovation” (Christensen, 1997). Using the other words, there has not yet been any successful “Disruptive Innovation” in automotive industry.

To describe the phenomenon, Authors use a case study and the Authors choose the representing case of the development and diffusion of the Low-floor Tram as a Disruptive Innovation in the mobility industry. After that, authors show the historical evolution in the automotive industry to elucidate that there has not yet been introduced any disruptive innovation including Battery EV.

The first Low-floor Tram was introduced in Grenoble on 1987. It used the technology reducing the number of axle to lower the floor, which enables the accessibility improvement for disability people, especially for the people using the wheelchair.
During the process of new LRT project in Grenoble on 1987, the association of wheelchair users demanded urban transportation authority to introduce the vehicle with accessibility for wheelchair. And the authority decided to introduce Low-floor Tram. The 70% of the passenger space inside the vehicle introduced was low floor and accessible for wheelchairs and mobility impaired people. This was enabled by abolishing the axle at bogie without motor.
After the introduction of Low-floor tram in Grenoble, people with disability became able to take tramway by him/herself. Seeing this success of Low-floor Tram, other French cities, such as suburban Paris and Rouen, introduced the Low-floor Tram as well. In 1994, Strasbourg city introduced the improved Low-floor tram, which equipped with 100% of Low-floor space through eliminating the axle at motored bogie.
The Low-floor vehicle had two impacts around the world. One impact was establishing the new standard of “Accessibility for disability persons” in road public transport, not only for the tramway but also for the bus. After the introduction of the Low-floor Tram, bus manufactures developed the Low-floor bus to compete against the Low-floor Tram.
The other impact was low cost of introduction. The introduction of Low-floor Tram costs 10 times less expensive than that of underground rail with Automated Guideway Transit (AGT). Then, French cities which planned to introduce the underground rail system with AGT, such as Strasbourg and Bordeaux, changed the plan after the introduction of Low-floor Tram in Grenoble. As of now 2020, there are numbers of cities introduced Low-floor Tram all over the world. Otherwise AGT and Monorail lost the market.
In the automotive industry, there are numbers of sustaining innovation. Historically the performance of cars has evolved and the functionality of cars has added. At the same time, the average price of cars has risen for long time.
Through these two findings, the authors conclude that the introduction of the Low-floor Tram can be defined as a “Disruptive Innovation” in the mobility industry. And there has not yet been any successful “Disruptive Innovation” in automotive industry.

The findings show that the Disruptive innovation had been delivered by Low-floor Tram in mobility industry through the introduction of new competitive axis, such as accessibility and the cost of introduction. These new axis took over the old competitive axis, such as speed and capacity, and became the enabler of the growth of Low-floor Tram/Bus. From the comparative view, potential of the Disruptive innovation in the automotive industry would be realized through the introduction of new competitive axis, which can take over the old competitive axis, such as speed and efficiency.

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