Carmakers at a crossroads: new product architectures and new productive organizations?

Theme N°: 

Carmakers are still “at the top of the automotive industry”. However, their perimeters of responsibility (R&D, powertrain & stamping, assembly and distribution) and of influences (raw material, components and dealer networks) evolved recently, greatly determining the structuring/restructuring processes of the industry. Taking these shifts into account, the main objective here is to grasp the nature and the degree of these evolutions for the main carmakers and their localizations. We especially highlight three main parameters that will require our attention.
First, in terms of product policy, there is a need to assess not only the new products (car segmentation, kinds of innovation according to the localizations, etc.), but also the new product architectures, which means the way these products are designed, manufactured and sold. How are the standards of innovation set? Is there an overall tendency in the auto industry which leads to more open standards set at the industry level, and no longer locked into the carmakers’ divisions? And how does this translate into the way components are designed and built in different national industries? Do we observe for instance a general trend towards more standardised modular components? Such questions will help us think about the perimeters of carmakers’ responsibilities and influences, but will also help us in understanding the way these evolutions transform the geography of production and innovation. The choices made between integration and externalization, domestic and foreign production, vary greatly according to the prices of components and raw materials on the one hand, and to the interest rates on the other. However, we might also think about the nature of the incentives and burdens due to national specificities in traditional and emerging industries. How the structuring and restructuring processes is transforming the geography of production? Do “bottom up” strategies and innovations such as Logan create new markets and/or transform old ones? How these processes affect and/or are affected by the way carmakers build their mid-term and long-term strategies in terms of product, innovation and localization policies? Do we observe phenomena such as re-localization of production? Is there a risk of building new over-capacity in some emerging countries such as China? What are the implications in terms of volumes, production costs and localization strategies, of the general trend towards “over-quality” in the design of products? How do cars meet their markets? Often overlooked, but directly linked with these two first dimensions, the structure of corporate control of carmakers also requires our attention. Is the control of companies changing? Who controls companies today? And how does it matter? How do traditional carmakers change their structures of governance, and how do newcomers build them? Are there any new forms and tools of governance that fundamentally reshape the traditional modes? Which is the role of the so-called external experts in this process? How do we characterize them? Which interests do they represent and how do they affect the internal governance of each strategic domain (design, marketing, strategy, human resources, value chain, etc.)?

Taking into account these three main dimensions – product architectures and perimeters of influences and responsibilities of carmakers; structuring and restructuring processes, and their impact on the geography of production and innovation; corporate governance and control patterns –, we call for communications that give us a better understanding of the trajectories of carmakers in a rapidly evolving industry. Whether based on monographs, international and/or national comparisons, historical comparisons, the communications are expected to focus on the way the carmakers trajectories shape and/or are shaped by the structuring/restructuring processes of the overall industry.

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