Innovation and cooperation: how new mobility solutions change German automotive innovation systems

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Type de publication:

Conference Paper


Gerpisa colloquium, Paris (2013)


Cooperation, Electric Mobility, German automotive industry, innovation, new mobility solutions


The lasts years’ trend towards a sustainable development of mobility solutions challenges the traditional product strategies of German car manufactures. These are deeply rooted in the predominant automotive paradigm of private owned cars with ICE engines as universal means of transportation (Canzler, Wentland and Simon, 2011). For sustainable mobility solutions new product strategies, business models and mobility services are needed which do not solely focus on cars and their powertrain, security and comfort features but reposition cars as one option in a multi-modal transportation system.

One important issue is the development and production of electric and hybrid vehicles and their positioning as parts of a multi-modal transportation system. This issue confronts manufactures with many challenges: integrating electric components and batteries, developing new vehicle architectures and new business models, building up consumer acceptance and a reliably infrastructure, as well as building up a reliable network involving energy providers and customer-friendly payment systems. The required technologies and competences cannot be found in the knowledge base automotive industry.
To access these technologies and competences interdisciplinary and intersectoral collaborations are needed. There has been a general trend towards cooperation and networks in the automotive innovation system over the last decade. Reasons for this development are diverse trends and challenges such as shorter innovation cycles, higher product diversity, increasing technical complexity or outsourcing of innovation activities (Dilk, et al., 2008). This trend is further enhanced by the challenges of product and business strategies electric mobility and new mobility solutions. But interdisciplinary and intersectoral relations are often hindered by communication and cooperation problems. Reasons are not only inflexible functional structures of work organization but also differing orientations of action and paradigms (Jürgens, 2006).
The aim of this paper is to further describe the increasing interdisciplinary and intersectoral cooperation in the German automotive industry stimulating the development of electric vehicle technologies and multi-modal mobility solutions. The theoretical framework is provided on the one hand by the triple-helix model of innovation systems which explains innovation processes in university-industry-government relations. The different societal subsystems remain in transition because of the different rationalities involved and thus change innovation systems which form technological trajectories and lock-ins over time due to coevolution. Therefore innovation processes emerge through mutual relations and cooperation between organization from the three subsystems (Leydesdorff, 2012; Etzkowitz and Leydesdorff, 2000).
On the other hand the theoretical concept introduced by Geels (2005) explains technological transition and system innovation by analyzing diffusion processes on three different levels. System innovation occurs by niche accumulation using ‘windows of opportunity’ which are created by landscape developments and lead to technological break-through on the regime level. Dolata (2011) refines this concept of system innovation and emphasizes the idea that radical chance takes place as a gradual transformation process in which technologies and connected social coordinates are significantly modified.
To illustrate the innovation processes coming about through electric mobility both on the technological and system level, I conducted content analysis on documents concerning cooperative projects within the so called electric mobility pilot regions. The German Federal Ministry of Transport, Building and Urban Development funded the development and commercialization of electric mobility in eight model regions between 2009 and 2011 (BMVBS, 2013).
The content analysis focuses for one on the strategic direction of cooperative projects and composition of partners exploring which degree of interdisciplinary and intersectoral cooperation was realized. Governmental funding addresses manly cooperative projects which involve partners from interdisciplinary academic contexts, different industries and local authorities. A second focus lies on goals and goal achievement of cooperative projects. Which goals are tried to achieve? Which methods are used? Do partners equally profit from goal achievement? The goals can be summarized in five categories: 1) developing and testing multi-modal mobility services for diverse uses, 2) developing and testing electric vehicles, 3) building R&D and production facilities for battery technology, 4) setting up charging infrastructure, 5) linking different partners involved in new mobility services.
Finally, first results of cooperative projects are observed. Most projects are aiming at a long-term and sustainable development. The number of electric vehicles and consumers of new mobility services increased in the model regions. Many projects are continued in follow-up projects. Thus these projects can be seen as successful. Nonetheless, many challenges remain especially regarding the broad market introduction and diffusion of electric vehicles, closing the gaps in the necessary charging and network infrastructure, defining standards, increasing consumer acceptance and broadening the diffusion of new products and services.
Overall, sustainable transportation solutions including electric mobility develop in a very gradual and regionally limited process shaped by greater economic developments in the automotive industry. Most products and services provided by the German automotive industry are still at an experimental stage and build niche markets. A further diffusion is just yet staring slowly and German OEMs seem to lack the ambition to accelerate the market development. But there are indications that new mobility solutions will be established as a relatively stable markets existing as alternatives to the conventional automotive market. This would also open up the opportunity for a change in technological regimes and the established automotive paradigm.
BMVBS, Bundesministerium für Verkehr, Bau und Stadtentwicklung, 2013. Electric Mobility Pilot Regions. [online] Available at <> [Accessed 28 February 2013]
Canzler, W., Wentland, A. and Simon, D., 2011, Wie entstehen neue Innovationsfelder? Vergleich der Formierung‐ und Formungsprozesse in der Biotechnologie und Elektromobilität. Discussion Paper, SP III 2011‐601, September 2011, Available through: Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung WZB website <> [Accessed 27 April 2012]
Dilk, C., Gleich, R., Wald, A., Motwani, J., 2008. Innovation networks in the automotive industry: an empirical study in Germany. International Journal of Automotive Technology and Management IJATM, 8(3), pp.317-330.
Dolata, U., 2011: Radical Change as Gradual Transformation. Characteristics and Variants of Socio-technical Transitions. Research Contributions to Organizational Sociology and Innovation Studies, SOI Discussion Paper 2011-03. Available through: Institut für Sozialwissenschaften website <> [Accessed 7 July 2012]
Etzkowitz, H. and Leydesdorff, L., 2000, The dynamics of innovation: From National Systems and „Mode 2“ to a Triple Helix of university‐industry‐government relation. Research Policy 29, pp.109‐123.
Geels, F.W., 2005. Technological Transitions and System Innovations: a Co-Evolutionary and Socio-technical Analysis, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.
Jürgens, U., 2006. Grenzen als Schnittstellen: Probleme der Kommunikation und Kooperation bei der Produktentwicklung. In: A.B. Antal and S. Quack, eds. 2006. Grenzüberschreitungen – Grenzziehungen: Implikationen für Innovation und Identität. Festschrift für Hedwig Rudolph. Berlin: edition sigma.
Leydesdorff, L., 2012. The Triple Helix of University-Industry-Government Relations. In: E. Carayannis and D. eds., 2012. Encyclopedia of Creativity, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship, New York: Springer.

Copyright© Gerpisa
Concéption Tommaso Pardi
Administration Géry Deffontaines

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