Industry Transformation and the Slowness of Strategic Actions – An Explication of the Contradiction between the Expected Industry Changes and the Current Strategic Behavior of Incumbent Automotive Firms

Publication Type:

Conference Paper


Gerpisa colloquium, Paris (2015)


Electric Mobility, Incumbent Automotive Firms, Management Cognition, Strategic Actions


Considering the non-collegiate and academic literature in the field of automotive industry, it becomes obvious that electric mobility represents not just an important trend, but also has the potential to fundamentally reshape the global automotive industry. Manifold forecasts highlight that by the year 2020 about 5-10 percent and by 2030 even 20-35 percent of the global vehicle sales could be endowed with an electric driven powertrain. At the same time an extensive consolidation of different industry sectors is not precluded in the long-run of the transition to electric mobility. Furthermore new production methods, vehicle designs and business models are expected in the near future. But already today, partly unknown suppliers and manu-facturers especially from China and emerging countries increasingly attempt to gain access to a hitherto largely encapsulated industry. Thus incumbent automotive firms face the challenge to adapt to changing technological and economical conditions by exploring essential resources as well as competencies, identifying new revenue potential and reclassifying new rivals in the competitive landscape in the transition to electric mobility. Although the challenges seem huge, it is surprising that the strategic response of some incumbent automotive firms (e.g. VW and Daimler) is relatively slow and rarely all-encompassing towards this transformation, particularly, because strategic responses are usually operationally effective delayed in time, while still other incumbent automotive firms (e.g. Renault-Nissan and BMW) strongly promote the development of electric vehicles. Consequently it is nondistinctive to date why the expected transformation of the automotive industry only partly goes hand in hand with adjustments in strategic actions of incumbent automotive firms. Although reasons for the contradiction between the expected industry transformation and the current strategic behavior of incumbent automotive firms can be arbitrarily expanded, plenty of them neglect that strategic actions in the direction of exploring electric vehicles heavily depend on the perception of the top management team regarding the development of the entrepreneurial conditions related to electric mobility. Against this background, we analyzed how managers interpret the industry transformation in the transition to electric mobility and how the managerial cognition affects the current strategic behavior of incumbent automotive firms. The results reveal that the intensity and speed of strategic actions is strongly influenced by the managerial cognition of the industry transformation. If German automotive firms assume respectively recognize changes in the internal as well as external environmental context in the transition to electric mobility, they currently conduct substantial and pro-active strategic actions. This may also be the reason, why some incumbent automotive firms are reacting either very fast or very slow on the challenges associated with the transition to electric mobility. Although all firms have partly similar and especially uncertain information about the environmental context, they apparently process this information from a cognitive perspective quite different. Those incumbent automotive firms that quickly process the information from the environmental context show a pronounced pro-active strategy alignment and are actively looking for new competitive advantages. Other incumbent automotive firms that do not recognize or only process information as well as developments from the environmental context very slow, however, reveal a marginal tendency to a strategic repositioning in the transition to electric mobility. In this respect, the underlying analysis provides a new explanatory note, why some incumbent automotive firms slowly respond to the transition to electric mobility, while other firms are quick off the mark. The cognitive capability of a firm is thereby critical for mastering technological changes as well as other transitions and already represents a value itself beyond resources and competences. Accordingly, incumbent automotive firms should strengthen their cognitive capability, especially in the transition to electric mobility.

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