European experiments on electric cars. Mass market or local niches ?

Publication Type:

Conference Paper


Gerpisa colloquium, Kyoto (2014)


European politics on the electric car so far have followed two development paths: on the one hand, the European Union and member states’ governments considered the electric car a key innovation for industrial recovery after the crisis in 2008. Dedicated research, development and demonstration projects consider the electric car as a mass-marketable product to encourage future value creation through new markets. A second evolution consisted in regional experiments that support electric car use to answer urban transport problems as noise and air pollution and congestion. Mobility services are developed based on (electric) station-bound or free-floating electric car sharing (Firnkorn/Müller 2012), building new types of public-private cooperations and successful niche market development (Hildermeier/Villareal forthcoming). These concepts entail a contrasting vision of the electric car as public, shared, and intermodal in future markets (Canzler/Knie 2011).

A mass market for electric cars cannot be expected in the near future, as demand for potential drivers is modest, and varies between consumer groups (Proff/Fojcik, forthcoming). Local experimentations along with public funding thus can determine which how electric mobility will develop in the long term. Looking at the a future electric car market as a politically constructed market, structured by firms’ R&D strategies and specific policy measures (Villareal 2011, Hildermeier/Villareal 2011), the argument follows assumptions of markets as socio-political configurations (Fligstein 2001) in which sectoral governance plays an important role to ensure institutional stability (Smith/Jullien forthcoming). At the intersection of environmental politics, European OEMs’ competitive strategies and consumers’ changing patterns of mobility, European e-mobility experiments represent an interesting case of “market-making” in which actors’ test and realize their visions of future (sustainable) transport.

However, little is known up to present on the impacts of these policies due to a lack of comparative data at European level. This papers’ objective is to seize, compare and critically evaluate the rationale behind existing e-mobility projects across European regions. Overall, 320 projects have been supported by the EU with a budget share of over 1 Mio € since 2007, at a total budget volume of approx. 1,9 billion € (EU 2013). Two thirds were accorded to R&D, one third to demonstration projects. The majority of funds were accorded to research institutions and supplying industry, while only 10% went directly to OEMs. Germany has been allocated most funding, followed by France. These first outcomes suggest an industrial policy rationale behind public funding, confirmed by ambitious development goals of members states such as Germany, France, Portugal and Spain. In parallel, increasingly strong implication of regions and local authorities as experimentation grounds of e-mobility services has produced a variety of alternative use patterns such as electrification of firms’ fleets, commuter services, public e-car-sharing. Based on a newly accessible EU database, the paper develops a typology of all recent EU-co-funded projects with regards to the role the electric car is taking. A classification of projects along criteria such as amount of funding, industrial partners, scope of cars and consumers, length of trial can give insights into the way and criteria based on which the EU has been funding electric mobility until now. Comparing outcomes across European regions, the paper discusses which type(s) of electric mobility markets and niches are likely to develop.


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Proff, Heike/Fojcik, Thomas (forthcoming): Accelerating market diffusion of battery vehicles through alternative mobility concepts. In: Canzler, Weert / Hildermeier, Julia (eds.) (2014): urban sustainable mobility. Journal of Automotive Technology and Management, 3 and 4, 2014.
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Villareal, A. (2011). The Social Construction of the Market for Electric Cars in France. Politics Coming to the Aid of Economics, International Journal of Automotive Technology and Management, Volume 11 n°4, pp. 326-339.

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