The role of experimentations in managing Electric Vehicle deployment

Publication Type:

Conference Paper


Gerpisa colloquium, Paris (2011)


innovation, véhicule électrique


Beyond the powertrain technological breakthrough, Electric Vehicle (EV) strategies raise systemic transformation issues, due to the renewal of the different dimension of internal combustion engine (ICE) dominant design (Beaume Midler, 2010): redesigning an integer electric mobility vehicle (the opposite of existing electrification of ICE vehicles); deploying a energy network to refill EV batteries; developing new customer usages that value the benefits and fulfill the constraints of electric mobility; redefine business models that can sustain EV development among new eco-systems: end users, national and local public authorities, OEM, energy and mobility service providers,…
Our goal is to highlight various dimensions of the systemic transformation and the role an automobile manufacturer can play in triggering this renewal. In the past, many EV projects have failed at addressing the renewal of these various dimensions of the ICE dominant design. A necessary condition to cross the chasm to reach EV mass deployment seems to associate an ambitious and durable strategy on one side, a cumulative but flexible learning process on the other.
We will study this strategy/learning duality on the case of Renault. This firm is clearly involved in a deep strategic move to EV. We will underline the main characteristics of his strategy with the ZEV program. We then focus on the role of experimentations in the learning process conducted by the firm. These experimentations lead to the utilization of prototype cars by pilot customers on roads in localized areas. Experimentations are stressed in the innovation management literature as building blocks for breakthrough innovation (Lynn, Paulson and Moronne, 1996, Thomke, 2003) and when irreducible uncertainties exist in projects (Lenfle 2008, Loch et al. 2006). We analyze how these experimentations address the various dimensions of the EV systemic renewal. We stress how these experimentations play a key role in coordinating various actors in this collective learning process: energy providers, cities, gas station, customers. We show how they contribute to the mobilization and mutual learning of the partners and to define new business models.
Our focus will be on European countries
R. Beaume, C. Midler: “Project-based Learning Patterns for Dominant Design Renewal: The Case of Electric Vehicle” International Journal of Project Management 28 (2010) pp 142–150.
Lenfle, S. (2008). Exploration and project management International Journal of Project Management, 26(5), p.469-478.
Lynn, G.S., Morone, J.G., Paulson, A.S., “Marketing and Discontinuous Innovation: The Probe and Learn Process”, California Management Review, vol.38, n°3, (1996), p.8–37.
Loch, C.H., De Meyer, A., and Pich, M.T. Managing the Unknown: A New Approach to Managing High Uncertainty in Projects, New York: Wiley (2006).
Thomke S., Experimentation Matters. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, (2003).

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