Governance and Policies to Foster Low Emission Vehicles in China, EUA and Japan

Publication Type:

Conference Paper


Gerpisa colloquium, Paris (2019)


 The transition to sustainable mobility is characterized by the confrontation of stability forces (lock-in, investments made, interests of dominant players, political systems, etc.) and changing forces ("green" propulsion systems, more prominence of municipalities in environmental issues, living labs, areas of restriction to traffic of polluting vehicles, tolls for polluting cars, smart technologies, etc.) in the various dimensions of the automotive regime established in several countries and cities. The confrontation of such opposite forces should promote changes in the automotive regime, existing in different contexts. The regime can be changed more substantially, for example, by restructuring modes of transport, or less substantially way, only by making low-emission vehicles[1]. (GEELS et al., 2011)

Although the automobility regime still has substantial stability, the intensification of cracks in it might lead to paradigm shift in the global automotive industry, in the (near) future. Substantial changes might come to affect relationships between car manufactures and global and local suppliers, distributors, dealers to new entrants, battery makers, transport, energy and service companies; from global value chains and national industries, to governments, public authorities and public regulations; and trade unions to consumers and users.

From this perspective, the intent to promote sustainable mobility transition on a country, or national, base, is a challenging task that requires coherence between many possible actions. For example, although low emission vehicles may contribute to reducing emissions, depending on how the energy input is generated, they do not necessarily solve transport safety issues, congestion, etc. Besides, objectives and interests of stakeholders must be reconciled, also between local and national government spheres, as well as at the supranational level. Besides, there are challenges in combining actions in the long and short-term perspective, also between public and private spheres.

Given such challenges, governance might be fundamental to promote an adequate transition to sustainable mobility, in a country. The adopted governance concept is formulated from four central meanings attributed to the term: institutional structures (formal and informal), processes of elaboration of policies, procedures or instruments of control and decision making, finally, strategy understood as the actors' efforts to conform the design of the institutions and mechanisms for selecting the choices and preferences. (Levi-Fauer, 2012)

By examining different country’s governance arrangements to foster low emission vehicles diffusion might be useful knowledge to countries that are entering such trajectory. Based on its specific arrangement, China has stood out in driving the electrification wave; United States’ Silicon Valley’s digital companies push forward the autonomous and connected vehicle; Germany backs up emphasizing its car’s superior quality to preserve its position of main exporter of high-end products; and Japan carries on its own specific trajectory towards greening technologies, built on hybrids and fuel cells.

These countries also stand out when it comes to the development of a governance arrangements that has fostered transition to sustainable mobility. The purpose of this study is to present a comparative analysis of governance and policy arrangements to foster low emission vehicles in China, EUA and Japan.

The first methodology step has been a literature review over governance, aiming at obtaining at understanding regarding the governance concept, also about governance as an element of transitions to sustainability and ultimately in the scope of a framework to analyze transitions to low emission vehicles. Then, examined concepts and created analysis framework have been applied on China, EUA and Japan study cases, which data have been collected from a literature review

Considering studies on governance of innovation systems and sustainable transitions, such as HILLMAN et al. (2011) and NILSSON, HILLMAN & MAGNUSSON (2012, b), this study applies the following governance analysis dimensions, based on three main questions:


“What is governed?”: mainly focused on the motivations for the country to foster electric mobility, as it brings more elements for a comparison between countries;


“Who governs?”: identifies and classifies the social actors that sustain and conduct the initiatives to foster low emission vehicles;


“How to govern?”: identifies and characterizes the mechanisms created by the actors to conduct, interact and develop actions in favor of sustainable mobility. Based on Consoni et al. (2018) and Oliveira et al. (2017), policies are specifically examined based on a typology that considers four categories of instruments (Production, Science & Technology, Infrastructure, Market).

Main results obtained in China case analysis indicate that policies and incentives has been characterized mainly by: i) state leadership in the formulation of public policies; ii) implementation of joint projects between companies (public and / or private), universities and central government entities (policy makers); iii) government procurement incentives that require a percentage of public or private fleet vehicles to be low-emission, with a focus on public transportation, such as taxis and electric buses; iv) implementation of pilot and demonstration projects, first in regions or cities and then at the national level.

In EUA study case, the implementation of policies reflects at least two main characteristics: (i) emphasis on the country's industrial strengthening, and it is clear how incentives in all dimensions aim to improve local productive capacity, or with specific instruments for the creation of such capacity, to the development and improvement of the technologies used by the companies of the sector, or with consumption incentives linked to the local production of these vehicles; and ii) the constant updating and improvement of these policies as the development and diffusion of the low emission vehicles advances. In this sense, we should point out the example of the incentives to the charging infrastructure, in which we started with demonstration instruments and then move on to national incentives.

Initiatives implemented by Japan seek to promote a shared model of accountability, where key R & D projects and technology demonstration projects take place through public-private partnerships. In addition, stimulus instruments convene and coordinate the actions of firms and ICTs, setting goals and patterns of this interaction. Partnerships promote an environment conducive to innovation, establishing an interactive learning process, because the "qualities" that are lacking in one actor can be apprehended in another. Thus, they feed back the process of competence creation and coevolution. The institutional set-up of Japan is diversified, presenting institutional instruments on the four fronts of public policies - production, consumption, S & T and infrastructure. These plans and projects differ from the others because they are of long-term duration, also because they present continuity. Thus, the institutional framework is stable and has a greater maturity in relation to other countries, since the problem of electric vehicles remains in the agenda, crossing many different governments (1976-2014).

The findings present some practical implications. In countries where low emission vehicles are already a reality, targets for the consumption and production segment prevail, which are shared and supported by development and research agencies. There is clarity in the proposals, as well as a governance and an overall vision that are effectively shared among actors from different spheres (companies, government agencies, civil society, universities, etc.).

Brazilian government is currently regulating its new automotive industry policy. The findings in this analysis indicate interested actors in Brazil should enhance governance capabilities, seeking ways to improve institutional structures (formal and informal), processes of policy elaboration, procedures and instruments to control implemented initiatives and decision-making capabilities, all these in a way to achieve or find common views and stablish country´s strategy for the transition to sustainable vehicles.


A low-emission vehicle is a vehicle that emits no CO2 in the tailpipe or relatively low levels when compared with average light-duty motor vehicle. They achieve such performance through different technologies: pure electric, electric-to-fuel-cell electric vehicles, hybrid electric, plug-in hybrid electric, range-extender electric, and electric hybrid ethanol (plugin or not)



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