The digitalisation of industry in the semi-periphery: the evidence from the Polish automotive sector

Publication Type:

Conference Paper


Gerpisa colloquium, Ann Arbor / Detroit (2020)


The digitalisation of industry in the semi-periphery: the evidence from the Polish automotive sector
Bolesław Domanski, Krzysztof Gwosdz, Agnieszka Sobala-Gwosdz, Agnieszka Świgost-Kapocsi, Grzegorz Micek, Arkadiusz Kocaj
The fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0), which is now underway, is claimed to be a ‘game-changer’ that will dramatically influence the global division of labour in several industries, automotive sector in particular. As the readiness for Industry 4.0 in the countries classified as a ‘semi-periphery’ or an ‘integrated periphery’ is significantly lower than in the core economies, they may face substantial loss of workplaces and competences. Fully automated and connected ‘smart factories’ may replace labour-intensive plants, both the subsidiaries of foreign-owned firms and domestic suppliers. On the other hand, some authors indicate that the opposite scenario is also possible. Digital transformation may enable decentralisation of higher value-added activities within global value chains and hence support further upgrading of the automotive industry in the semi-periphery.
The authors investigate the managerial attitudes and company strategies towards Industry 4.0 in the case of the Polish automotive industry, a country which is positioned as a semi-periphery or integrated periphery in the European division of labour. The research is chiefly based on primary data acquired from the interviews with company managers and CATI survey supplemented by secondary data.
The results of the study indicate that the majority of automotive suppliers, especially small and medium-size domestic-owned firms, are at the very early stage of digital transformation and their willingness to adopt Industry 4.0 solutions is still low. According to the survey, digitalisation was one of the least important factors influencing business strategies in recent years, mainly because many companies had not reached the required automation level, the necessary step in the progress toward Industry 4.0 solutions. This competence lock-in is a serious threat to the competitiveness of these companies in the medium and long-term. On the other hand, innovative competence break-out strategies were identified in some cases, mainly in foreign subsidiaries which had achieved the status of product mandate, or even product-expert (responsibility for the design of a given component). The same is true of some successful small and medium-size domestic suppliers. We conclude that the main upgrading mechanism in the semi-peripheral economy is rather indirectly related to the digital transformation in the automotive industry. It is conditioned by the critical juncture of the development of domestic IT companies and the growing demand for automation and digital solutions of automotive companies, which have to constantly improve productivity, but cannot rely on the previous strategies any longer, for example due to increasing labour shortages.


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