The innovative strategies of carmakers in developping hybrid vehicles? A patent analysis of battery technologies

Type de publication:

Conference Paper


Gerpisa colloquium, Kyoto (2014)


battery, hybrid car, innovation, patent analysis


Among the multiple challenges that the automobile industry must address, energy issues and environmental constraints are highly critical. The high expectations of sustainable mobility have led carmarkers to participate in a global innovative process regarding electric and hybrid cars (Calabrese, 2012).

More precisely, one technology benefits from important research and development activities : batteries. They are indeed one of the main differentiating factors for these vehicles. Current inventive activities on battery technologies concentrate several promises : reduced production costs, and charging time ; increased battery lifespan, autonomy, energy storage… Moreover, batteries are complex technological products for which development depends on sophisticated and specifical knowledge (Larrue, 2002).

Due to the complexity of battery designing processes, new partners have appeared in carmakers innovation networks, as evidenced by a recent communication of Volvo car group on the development of structural batteries. Volvo has associated with various partners, notably Imperial College London and BAE Systems, and has taken part in an European Union research project that aims at replacing conventional batteries.

The present paper focuses on the Gerpisa’s theme  « carmakers at a crossroads : new product architectures and new productive organizations ? » and its goal is to conduct an empirical analysis of the innovation strategies developed by carmakers to address the technological challenges raised by hybrid car batteries.
 This question will be treated using patent analyses. Patent application forms convey large amounts of information that can be used to better understand inventive activities, either regarding a specific technology, sector or inventive actor. This methodology of analysis methodology has already proven to be efficient in the case of automobile industry. For instance, Pilkington et al. (2002) have referred to patent information as « a rich indicator of technological development » of the electric vehicle.

The present communication adresses three main questions :
- Geography of innovation. Where are localized battery-related inventive activities ? Have new pools of skills emerged ?
- Evolution of technological choice.  What are the technological combinations adopted by carmarkers ?
- Organization of innovation networks. Who are the new participants in the innovative process ? Are new alliances created ? What role do suppliers play in these networks ?

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