From Environmental Automotive Innovations to the Disruptive Technologies Emergence

Publication Type:

Conference Paper


Gerpisa colloquium (2018)


Automotive industry, environmental innovation, Environmental Technologies, Greenhouse Gas, Technological Innovation


The international economic expansion has increased the environmental concern, especially due to energy production. These changes led to the concentration raise of Greenhouse Gases - GEE in the atmosphere, leading to foster in investments in low carbon technologies (OECD, 2009), mainly in the transport sector to reduce CO2 emissions, as a result of fossil fuels burning (Silva, Spers, Wright, & Costa, 2013). In this context, the automakers have invested in technological innovations aimed to reduce fuel consumption to meet the growing demand for energy efficiency improvements imposed by regulations (Zapata & Nieuwenhuis, 2010). Innovations are usually incremental, on the basis of cost, customer preference and, regarding automobiles, the change in the maintenance process (Oltra & Saint Jean, 2009). This type of innovation provides small changes on the current platform, and the regulation usually fosters this innovation (Davila, Epstein, & Shelton, 2007). In the case of disruptive technology change, the properties have significant differences compared to the current technology standard (Zapata & Nieuwenhuis, 2010). The dynamics between the technological transitions based on the time of change is described by the concept of overlapped S curves. This transition is characterized by the difference between evolution and stagnation of each technology, which occurs once in technological change (Hauser, Tellis, & Griffin, 2006).
This research aims to analyze the transition of automotive incremental innovations for GHG reduction until the emergence of new disruptive technologies. To achieve this goal, the method used is descriptive qualitative research and data collection was carried out by means of documentary research.
The research outcome show that to meet the regulation targets about energy efficiency improvement (Horbach, 2008) and GHG reduction in Brazil, the internal combustion engines received both, new technologies and the improvement of others (Bastin, Szklo, & Rosa, 2010). Technologies such as variable valve timing (VVT) and turbocharger (Ahman, 2001)(Bastin et al., 2010)(Dijk & Yarime, 2010)(NRC, 2015)(Plotkin, 2009)(Posada & Façanha, 2015) (Simmons, Shaver, Tyner, & Garimella, 2015) (Taylor, 2008)(Zapata & Nieuwenhuis, 2010), for example, have been enhanced. These were used in the past to improve vehicles performance and in recent years for fuel consumption reduction. The introduction of new technologies in Brazil was also encouraged by the regulations (Kneller & Manderson, 2012)(Horbach, 2008)(Yalabik & Fairchild, 2011)(Zapata & Nieuwenhuis, 2010), and among the main innovations are: the reduction of engines, the downsizing (Ahman, 2001)(Bastin et al., 2010)(NRC, 2015)(Plotkin, 2009)(Posada & Façanha, 2015) (Simmons et al., 2015) (Taylor, 2008)(Zapata & Nieuwenhuis, 2010), with the introduction of the 3-cylinder engines and direct fuel injection (Bastin et al., 2010)(Difiglio, 1997)(Dijk & Yarime, 2010)(Plotkin, 2009)(Posada & Façanha, 2015) (Simmons et al., 2015) (Taylor, 2008). Besides these, have also been incorporated in vehicles: electric power steering (NRC, 2015), the system that shuts off the engine at idle, high compression ratio (Ahman, 2001) (Taylor, 2008), vehicles weight reduction (Difiglio, 1997) (NRC, 2015)(OECD, 2009)(Plotkin, 2009)(Simmons et al., 2015) and transmissions with a higher number of gears. These technologies contribute to improving energy efficiency, which can be perceived by fuel economy (Plotkin, 2009)(Taylor, 2008). Despite the technological evolution, all of these are incremental innovations (Davila et al., 2007) (Kemp & Pontoglio, 2011) (Oltra & Saint Jean, 2009) (Zapata & Nieuwenhuis, 2010), which has attended the limits imposed by the Brazilian legislation (Bastin et al., 2010), with the partial reduction of CO2 emissions.
These incremental innovations has been used while disruptive technologies are not consolidated, such as semi-radical innovations, hybrid vehicles and radical innovations such as electric vehicles and fuel cell powered, which eliminate the direct emission of CO2 with this new propulsion technology. The hybrid vehicles (Ahman, 2001)(Christensen, 2011)(Carrillo-Hermosilla, Del Río, & Könnölä, 2010)(Dijk & Yarime, 2010)(Oltra & Saint Jean, 2009)(Plotkin, 2009)(Zapata & Nieuwenhuis, 2010), conventional or plug-in (Oshiro & Masui, 2015)(Simmons et al., 2015), offers greater flexibility by allowing the use of liquid fuel, which increase the viability of this technology in Brazil. The electric vehicles (Ahman, 2001)(Christensen, 2011)(Dijk & Yarime, 2010)(Oltra & Saint Jean, 2009) are still in evolution process mainly regarding autonomy, cost and battery recharge time. Regarding fuel cell vehicles, the process of getting hydrogen is energy intensive (Ahman, 2001) (Christensen, 2011)(Difiglio, 1997)(Oltra & Saint Jean, 2009)(Zapata & Nieuwenhuis, 2010), besides to demand a specific supply infrastructure.
This study consolidated the technologies applied in vehicles produced in Brazil to meet energy efficiency regulations, which were accomplished with incremental innovation. Semi-radical and radical innovations require incentives to foster the diffusion, and there is an important alternative in Brazil to reduce CO2 impact: ethanol, used with flex fuel technology (Bastin et al., 2010)(Silva et al., 2013). Adding the flex technology availability with the barriers of electric vehicles, Brazil has not enough demand for electric vehicles, thus there is no break-even point for local production. In 2015 the market share of electric vehicles in Brazil was lower than 0.05% (ANFAVEA, 2016). Hybrid and electric vehicles are import, which raises the final price due to taxes and exchange rate.
Therefore, the incremental technologies accomplised the demand in the Brazilian market, and the ethanol strengthens the internal combustion engine. This scenario change could be via technological regulation (Bergek & Berggren, 2014), which promotes investment in disruptive technologies, such as the German market that will not allow vehicle sales with internal combustion engine from 2030 on. Another way is a harsher reduction of CO2 emission limits (Cuenot, 2009) in order to demand the use of disruptive propulsion technologies.

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