Is a second automobile revolution underway? How to improve our capacity to answer?

Publication Type:

Conference Paper


Gerpisa colloquium, Paris (2017)


The theories of innovation and technical change
put of the test of the first and the second automobile revolution
The need for a new approach

Robert Boyer, Michel Freyssenet

Theories are attempts to make the results of surveys consistent, with a view to identify-ing some principles that can serve as new tools for analysing old and new realities and possibly forecasting tools. They often have the merit of overcoming the impasses in which pre-existing theories were driving researchers. But they also have the disad-vantage of enclosing reflection in the terms of the debate from which they are the prod-uct, preventing them from seeing completely unexpected realities emerged elsewhere.
This seems to be the case of many theories of innovation and technical change when confronted with what was the first automobile revolution and with the phenomena that suggest today a possible second automobile revolution.
The analysis of the results of the works on the first automobile revolution allows us to ask the question of innovation in the following way: How is it that the automobile with internal combustion of fuel imposed, first as technical solution during the first 50 years of the 20th century, and then as a world standard for road transport until today, while it had the lowest energy efficiency of all solutions, the least reliable, it was the most polluting and dangerous vehicle, known as such from the outset, and the most ex-pensive in the end?
If existing theories provide insight into a particular aspect of this first automobile revolution, they do not allow us to understand the incredible paradox that it has been and continues to be in a world that has made rationality both its credo and the ultimate explanation.
It will be recall the first tool we proposed to understand this paradox: the four non-technical conditions that made possible for the petrol internal combustion engine. It will be shown that the application of this first scheme to the current transition phase to cleaner car led to complement it by scenarios and stages where several technical solu-tions were credible, at least for a period of time, in an energy world more diversified than at the beginning of the last century. We will then return to the first revolution to find out if different scenarios were also engaged at that time, beyond the first years, by uncovering facts ignored or undervalued. An assessment of the transition scenarios to the clean, connected, automated and sharable car in progress will then be drawn up to evaluate the respective diffusing chances of these scenarios. We will include in this evaluation the scenario of the resilience of the current automobile industry based on the internal combustion engine, ie its ability to meet new environmental standards without changing its technical basis. We shall conclude on some considerations about the use of theories of innovation and technical change.

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