The emergence of electric mobility between 1995 and 2015 in the Netherlands: evidence of a transition pathway

Publication Type:

Conference Paper


Marc Dijk


Gerpisa colloquium, Paris (2019)


Electric mobility has been identified as a potential disruptive innovation. It may trigger transition, i.e. fundamental changes, in individual, ICE-based car mobility, the current principal way of travelling. Such an established practice tends to have a level of stability and a relative advantage in comparison to new practices due to scale and learning benefits. In transition studies the notion of sociotechnical regime has been coined and applied to describe how car mobility is to a significant extent locked into individual, ICE-based car mobility because the societal context is strongly adapted to their use in terms of expected range and cost, refuel time, production (and knowledge) systems, refueling infrastructure, regulations (e.g., emissions, safety), cultural meaning, etc. Nevertheless, various historic transition cases show that established practices have sometimes been overthrown, and studies of transformative change have highlighted the importance of: changing policy pressures, changing actor perspectives, technology spill-over from other sectors, resource scarcity or other problems, all of which may affect product range offered, investments and business models. In this paper we take a socio-technical practices perspective to see if there is currently evidence of more fundamental change in car mobility in The Netherlands.

From a socio-technical perspective products are socially constructed and markets are socially embedded. Producers’ and consumers’ mental models or frames are mutually dependent and shaped during market evolution. In this paper we take a socio-cognitive view of car mobility and analyze cultural frames of car mobility with two questions: how do people frame different types of cleaner mobility (diesel, hybrid-electric, battery-electric), and how have frames shifted during market evolution between 1995 and 2015? Answers to these questions can help to understand whether electric mobility is emerging and whether there is currently evidence of fundamental change in car mobility.
Frames become manifest in stories. In this paper we analyze frames through a discourse analysis of (all) stories about car mobility (both ICE-based and electric mobility) published in national newspapers in The Netherlands in five years that together span 20 years: 1996, 2000, 2005, 2010 and 2015.
Indeed we find a number of clues that suggest more fundamental changes of actor perspectives on ICE-based and electric car mobility:
- After 2005 the traditional attributes to describe diesel mobility, engine volume and torque receive less attention, whereas CO2 emissions receive much more attention, and after ‘dieselgate’ (in September 2015) also NOx and environmental impact in general.
- The average appraisal of diesel mobility peaked in 2010 and now decreasing (from scoring +1.2 in 2005) to +2.43 in 2010, to-1.5 in 2015, which is only partially explained by ´dieselgate´ because the average before September 2015 was already 0.7.
- The average appraisal of electric mobility is increasingly positive (scoring -1,6 in 1996, -1,7 in 2000; -2,5 in 2005, but +1.9 in 2010 and +1.4 in 2015.
- Although there are some stable attributes of electric mobility overtime (such as range and refuel time), there are also changes, especially attention for price is decreasing after 2005, whereas reference to the future (i.e. its likely important role) is increasing. Max speed, noise and refueling network used to be flagged as issues but receive lesser attention after 2005.

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