Automobile industry, towards an electric autonomous mobility service industry? A sociotechnical transition-based approach

Type de publication:

Conference Paper


Marc Alochet


Gerpisa colloquium, Paris (2021)


The objectives of carbon neutrality in 2050, resulting from the Paris agreement in 2015, as well as the numerous global regulations concerning the reduction of CO2 or pollutant emissions put the automotive industry under strong pressure to make a rapid transition from internal combustion vehicles to electric vehicles as experts estimate that the tipping point should occur around 2035.
But, the momentum that the automotive industry is currently experiencing is characterized by the conjunction of three major breakthroughs, going far beyond the simple electrification of vehicles. Altogether, they increase the systemic perimeter of the induced disruption that the theoretical framework of sociotechnical transition allows us to qualify:
1. The convergence of technological innovations enabling the emergence of the Connected, Autonomous, Shared and Electric Vehicle (CASE) as well as the development of innovative mobility services (Mobility as a Service - MaaS) offers,
2. New societal challenges: growing urbanization, new urban transportation needs, changes in consumer behavior with regard to automobile ownership and mobility,
3. The arrival on the mobility market of new players, particularly powerful technologically and financially, from the world of digital technologies.
While the study of this transition is addressed by many researchers, public and professional reports, we point out one critical question: “Are these automobile mobility trajectories oriented toward a single dominant design of mobility services?”
To answer this question, we conduct an empirical study based on the analysis of ten innovative mobility experiences in the USA, Europe and China. We use an analytical framework built on a Multi-Level Perspective approach (MLP) and make two hypotheses about the ongoing transition. Firstly, social actors that concretely activate the "external" and "internal" forces at work in this transition are (1) the carmakers, as incumbent major actors in the dynamics of the sector, (2) the mobility operators, (3) the Tech firms that provide the technologies supporting the new mobility services, (4) the public authorities, who regulate and prescribe transport, and (5) major construction companies that often finance and operate major infrastructure works in Public Private Partnerships. Secondly, as far as the trajectory of the specific dynamics of automobile mobility, we hypothesize that it could evolve from the traditional B2C or B2B (fleet) business model for production and sale of vehicles to a model of sale of mobility services.
To characterize the changes induced by this transition of the automotive industry, we introduce a specific framework based on the definition of the design space of an innovative mobility service (Mobility as a Service, MaaS). It enables to describe a mobility initiative, in all its characteristics necessary for its operation.
The main results :
1. It shows how the STT paradigm and the MLP analytical framework can be applied to analyze emerging transitions and how they allow apprehending their current trajectories. It articulates the theoretical frameworks of STT and the more recent frameworks of project-based organizational learning management. This allows for a more precise apprehension of the capacities for dynamic evolution of the transitions that the initiatives studied have revealed.
2. This implementation of the STT paradigm makes it possible to broaden the field of study and to question the influence of multiple factors, other than purely technological, on the future of the architecture of the automobile industry. As such, it makes it possible to complete and extend the stream of research, about the resilience of the automobile industry, proposed by some authors (Jacobides et al., 2016; Jacobides and MacDuffie, 2013; MacDuffie and Fujimoto, 2010; Wells and Nieuwenhuis, 2012).
3. Based on the cases studied, we characterize three different MaaS ideal types (Weber, 1978) to which the current transition could lead (i) mobility service added to product, (ii) robotaxi and (iii) territorialized open mobility platform and so demonstrates that there is no “one best way” in vehicle-based mobility services.
4. We characterize the new ecosystem architectures behind those three different ideal types focusing on the roles of carmakers, mobility operators and public authorities. Therefore, we point out some conditions which could pave the way to a disruption of the long-lasting architecture of the automotive industry.
Based on the detailed analysis of the 10 cases studied, we make the following practical contributions:
1. There is no already written history or single path for the future of the autonomous vehicle, as shown by the highlighting of three ideal types of mobility: “mobility service added to product”, “robotaxi” and “territorialized open mobility platform”. These constitute idealized targets of the trajectories identified in the initiatives studied, which are significantly different in (i) their nature, (ii) the performances sought, and (iii) the ecosystems that underpin them.
2. If the first typical ideal is a natural extension of the carmakers' current business as a focal company, the second shows a deeper technological breakthrough, supported by a logic of platform leadership, which can also be seized by players who are not originally OEMs. Finally, the third, which requires collective learning within a heterogeneous ecosystem, could lead to the emergence of new leaders such as local authorities or mobility operators. In any case, the last two have the potential to destabilize the automotive industry well beyond its natural resilience.

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