Leapfrogging to electric vehicles: Challenges of governance in China's Automobile Industry

Publication Type:

Conference Paper


18th GERPISA International Colloquium: The Greening of the Global Auto Industry in a Period of Crisis, Berlin (2010)


automobile industry, China, clean vehicle, Electric Vehicle, institutions, role of government


The notion of leapfrogging where, in the process of industrialization, a nation is able to move directly to the use of more advanced technologies without needing to follow the same path followed by more established industrialized nations, is undoubtedly an attractive one. While this notion has relevance to all sorts of areas, it has a particular relevance in the field of sustainable development where the need to utilize more energy efficient and less environmentally damaging technologies have never been more urgent.
The central question that we address in this paper is, can China 'leapfrog' Western nations in the development of a new generation of cleaner and more energy efficient electric vehicles. Our goal is to examine the reality of this scenario through a consideration of both the opportunities and the challenges that exist in China today.
The paper will present a detailed literature review that explores the different ways in which the notion of leapfrogging is used and to examine the relationship between leapfrogging and other forms of catching-up. This review will be used to expand the concept of leapfrogging from one that is focused primarily on technology to encompass a broader view that includes both levels of industrialization and forms of governance.
Following this we will provide an analysis of recent empirical data gathered on (a) the current 'state of the art' in the production of electric vehicles and their components in China; (b) the specific local dynamics of the Chinese market for electric vehicles, and (c) the Chinese Government's evolving industrial policy. We believe that this analysis demonstrates that China has the potential to outstrip the west both in terms of its ability to develop the technology required for such vehicles, and in terms of its technological, industrial and governmental infrastructure.
The paper will conclude with an evaluation of the likelihood of this potential becoming a reality by summarizing current achievements and future challenges.

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