Learning and Innovation Mechanisms during Transition Periods. The Case Study of the Auto Parts Industry in Mexico

Type de publication:

Conference Paper


Gerpisa international colloquium 2012, Krakow (2012)


The automobile industry has been characterized by constant restructuring. Since the early 1990s, with the globalization, organizational and technological restructuring in the auto industry have been particularly dynamic (Calabrese, 2000; Lamming, 1993). The transition towards cleaner technologies has already started and it is characterized by a technological transformation that seems to be a break through the existing technological trajectories.

Every day more the industry has become more concentrated and less vertically integrated by outsourcing not only parts and components but also processes (The Economist, 2002, 2005). However, there is no doubt that the headquarters of the OEMs remain the leading and deciding piece in the new paradigm. Therefore it makes sense that on the one hand, most of the discussion is focused on the changes required by the assemblers to compete into a greener environment with expensive newer technologies. On the other hand, no much of the discussion is focusing on the large assembling operations conducted outside the Trial. A relevant question hidden and not openly asked is: Are developing countries’ auto parts suppliers able to catch up with the new competences required by tomorrow’s automobile industry? The answer depends largely on the existing knowledge and the absorption capacity of these suppliers.

Using the case of the Mexican auto parts industry, this study presents changes in learning and innovation mechanisms adopted during critical transition moments. First, the trade liberalization that started in 1989 and formalized in 1994 with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), ending more than 40 years of import substitution industrialization (Vallejo, 2010). Second, the financial crisis faced during 2008 and 2009 (Garcia Jimenez, 2011).

Although these two critical moments are more related to organizational and financial aspects of the production than to technological changes per se, they allow us to draw conclusions on the level of existing technological capacities. By comparing the type of changes adopted in auto parts firms in these two moments of time, and the master levels of these firms of widely adopted lean production organizational strategies, the study allows us to conclude on the existing capacities of the local supplying industry and its potential. The results show the local auto parts industry’s absorptive capacity and how likely it is to face the new managerial and technological requirements of a technological transition in the industry worldwide. Most importantly, it serves as a base to identify basic needs of auto parts firms located in developing economies to adapt to the new international requirements settled in the Triad.

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