Who drives the change? Transitions for Sustainable Mobility and the role of Automotive Industry

Publication Type:

Conference Paper


Gerpisa colloquium, Paris (2019)


The current mobility system regime, based on individual internal combustion engine cars, is the main contributor to climate change and other sustainability challenges, such as air pollution, road congestion and competition for public space. Despite the resistance of this model (much of it, the result of the automotive industry conservative behavior), there are many initiatives, in many different fields of mobility systems, which indicate possible future change in this persistent regime. (Manders, Wieczorek and Verbong, 2018; Orsato et. al. 2011)
The complexity of the automotive sector has grown dramatically in the last years. Two worlds are colliding: on the one hand, the traditional world of carmakers, OEMs and car related distribution and services, which is dealing with the electrification and digitalization of cars, the digitalization of production and value chains, the transformations of mobility systems and more constraining environmental and transport regulations; on the other hand, the world of ICT, which is entering the automotive sector in many different ways and could change its structure and the very nature of its business.
In addition, regional, national and supra national governments are pushing more strict environmental regulations, while public pressure for better, cleaner and less inequality in mobility systems increases. To summarize, auto industry is presently confronting deep uncertainty (Teece, 2018)
Transition for a sustainable mobility system is a complex process and it does not simply "happen", it is the outcome of pressures from landscape and up-scaling of niche innovations and experimentations, where the role of supportive coalitions driving the transition is fundamental. No single actor has enough resources (expertise, money, legitimacy, organization or leadership) to make such transition happen. (Roberts et al, 2018). But in the case of mobility systems, the role of automotive industry is central to transition. Automotive industry is globally powerful enough to foster or hinder policies aiming to develop more sustainable mobility systems, especially in producer countries, where they are central to GDP.
The relation among automotive industry and different actors involved in transitions and how to coordinate and align the different incentives for those actors, are the core of this article. The intended contribution is to address some gaps in Transitions Theory, notably, how transitions occur and who drives the process. The nature of public-private partnerships as meso-institutions (Ménard, 2014) in driving transitions would be the main theoretical contribution.
Therefore, we propose to analyze and compare Brazilian and German case studies regarding sustainable urban mobility transitions. To accomplish this goal, we analyze the diffusion level and different characteristics that explain the current development level of four niches: electro mobility, car sharing schemes, intermodal transportation, and innovation in public transportation. Using the multiple case study method, we compare the sustainable mobility initiatives and innovations undertaken by two German automotive companies in Brazil and in Germany. The results of the research conducted with both companies show that mobility initiatives in Brazil remain very limited. Manufacturers remain much more concerned with selling traditional products than with initiating more aggressive strategies oriented to mobility. Even in their mother countries, mobility innovations can be considered moderate. Our preliminary conclusions are that mobility initiatives in Germany and in Brazil are very different for a number of reasons, such as different pre-existing infrastructures to support new mobility initiatives, public pressure for mobility solutions, different growth patterns concerning car sales and different institutional and legal conditions regarding public and private participation in mobility issues. The role of automotive companies is crucial in defining policies, but exogenous actors are gaining more space in developing niches that could defy current automotive regime.


Manders, T.N. Wieczorek, A.J. Verbong, G.P.J. Understanding smart mobility experiments in the Dutch automobility system: Who is involved and what do they promise? (2018) Futures, Volume 96, Pages 90-103, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.futures.2017.12.003.
Ménard, C. (2014). Embedding organizational arrangements: Towards a general model. Journal of Institutional Economics, 10(4), 567-589. doi:10.1017/S1744137414000228
Orsato, R.J., Dijk, M., Kemp, R., Yarime, M., (2011) The electrification of automobility: the bumpy ride of electric vehicle toward regime transition. In: Geels, F.W.Kemp, R., Dudley, G., Lyons, G. (Eds.), Automobility in Transition? A Socio-Technical Analysis of Sustainable Transport. Routledge, New York
Roberts, C., Geels, F.W., Lockwood, M., Newell, P., Schmitz,H., Turnheim,B., Jordan, A. (2018) The politics of accelerating low-carbon transitions: Towards a new research agenda. Energy Research & Social Science. Volume 44, Pages 304-311 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.erss.2018.06.001.
Teece, D. (2018) Tesla and the reshaping of Auto Industry. Management and Organization Review. Vol.14, Nr.3, Pages 501-512. https://doi.org/10.1017/mor.2018.33

  GIS Gerpisa / gerpisa.org
  4 Avenue des Sciences, 91190 Gif-sur-Yvette

Copyright© Gerpisa
Concéption Tommaso Pardi
Administration Juan Sebastian Carbonell, Lorenza MonacoGéry Deffontaines

Powered by Drupal, an open source content management system