Editorial. The COVID-19 Crisis and its Impact on the Automotive Industry: Industrial Policies Transformation of Markets and Company Strategies

Publication Type:

Journal Article

Source:

International Journal of Automotive Technology and Management, Volume 23, Number 1, p.1-4 (2023)

Abstract:

The automotive industry is undergoing a period of rapid transformation driven by technological innovation. While the combustion engine is slowly losing importance as a powertrain technology, the market share of electric drives has grown dynamically during the last three to five years. New digital vehicle technologies and autonomous driving are becoming increasingly important for customers (Alochet et al., 2021; Jetin, 2020). Furthermore, the architectural changes go hand in hand with the transformation of the sectoral innovation and manufacturing processes. Here, too, the topic of digitalisation is of central importance, and efforts to identify new opportunities to automate industrial production are intensifying (Krzywdzinski, 2021).
These technological developments entail various fundamental changes in inter-firm relations and organisational structures of the global automotive industry. For one thing, the rise of electric mobility has created entry opportunities for new car manufacturers. Tesla, in particular, has become a major competitor to traditional companies – although competition for dominance in the electric vehicle (EV) market remains open (MacDuffie and Fujimoto, 2010). Chinese EV producers, too, have challenged the position of European and North American manufacturers. In addition, sectoral global value chain structures are changing. Companies from China, South Korea and Japan currently dominate the development and production of EV batteries (Wang et al., 2022). With regard to the digital vehicle technologies, autonomous driving, industrial internet platforms, or the related cloud infrastructures, North American (and Chinese) companies have been at the forefront (cf. Fujimoto, 2019; Lechowski and Krzywdzinski, 2022).
While the aforementioned shifts were perceived as gradual just a few years ago, in the 2020s, some of them have gained new momentum due to the overlapping of several crises that affected the global economy. More specifically, an increasingly pro-active involvement of government actors has accelerated the ongoing technological changes in the automotive sector. This trend has been particularly visible in the European Union (EU) (cf. Bergsen, 2020). In the context of the climate crisis, the EU has dramatically tightened its emission standards for the transportation sector. Furthermore, while the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a collapse in the domestic car sales, some member-state governments have used the crisis as an opportunity to introduce generous demand-side measures to stimulate the shift to electric mobility. While the USA has a long tradition of industrial-policy interventions (in particular, through enormous defence spending), and China’s state-capitalist economy relies on direct government support for strategic industries and corporate champions, such an approach has long been unthinkable in the EU – not least due to the conflicting economic interests of individual member states (e.g., Pardi, 2020, 2021).
This special issue focuses on a comparative analysis of industrial policy responses to the COVID crisis in the global automotive industry. The collected empirical contributions examine how selected national governments (Germany, France, Italy, Japan, China and Mexico) have responded to the COVID-era sectoral downturn – and to what extent, in doing so, they have taken measures to influence the ongoing technological and structural change in the sector. The papers address the following set of research questions: have the crisis-era interventions by the different governments focused on protecting automotive companies in the short-term, or have they pursued rather long-term strategic goals? What problem areas have the employed policy measures prioritised – such as workforce-related issues, technological innovation, or supply-chain restructuring? Have the crisis-era policy interventions attempted to preserve the status quo in the domestic automotive sectors – or have they attempted to promote a deeper structural change?

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