Technological alliances in times of technological uncertainty. A case study for the global automotive industry

Publication Type:

Conference Paper


Gerpisa colloquium, Brussels (2024)


automotive industry ACES, digitalization, intangible assets, supply chain, technological alliances


In recent years, the inclusion of digitalization, artificial intelligence, and automation in production processes has increased unprecedentedly (Vallejo, 2017) . This article analyzes the current dynamics in a large constellation of strategic technological alliances restructuring the automotive industry’s global value and supply chains. The article provides a perspective from recent literature for the classification of technological alliances in the industry. Furthermore, it strengthens this classification with an empirical analysis based on a dataset with about 309
alliances globally for 2018-2023.

As with many other manufacturing activities, the auto industry is embedded in a network of technological trajectories influenced by emerging technological paradigms in light of increasing global environmental regulations. In times of technological change, alliances have been a traditional channel used by manufacturing firms to reduce technological uncertainty, reach technological upgrading, and increase market share. Even though strategic alliances have been extensively addressed in the literature since the early 1980s, we are now witnessing a great change in their nature. We are observing how traditional automotive mergers and alliances are being displaced by a dizzying array of inter-sectoral (or inter-industry) alliances forming new ecosystems and collaborations seeking to keep their place in the rapidly changing technological trends (Sigal, 2018).

With the entrance of microelectronics to favor the initial adoption of lean production in the auto industry. Lean production required constant challenges in production processes, requiring higher levels of automation, digitalization, and technological efforts (Jonker, Romijn, and Szirmai, 2006) and requiring automotive firms to achieve more complex technological capabilities.
Therefore, it is not surprising that already in the mid-1990s, the industry started to show an increasing trend for strategic alliances in the forms of mergers and acquisitions (i.e., the Renault alliance with Nissan in 1999 and the later acquisition of Isazu; the acquisition of Jaguar Land Rover by Tata Motors in 2008, or the acquisition of Volvo by Chinese Geely in 2010), joint ventures (i.e., Daimler AG and Robert Bosch GmbH for the development of traction motors for electric vehicles in 2011), and heavy exchanges of capital stakes (Vallejo, 2017) .
In the early 2000s, when discussions on implementing more rigorous environmental standards and energy legal regulations of CO2 emissions in the European Union and the United States took place, the automotive industry was forced into developing greener technologies, products, and processes (Yarime, Shiroyama, and Kuroki, 2008).

The enforcement of environmental regulations and energy efficiency legislations have set the path for the ongoing autonomous, connected, electric, and shared (ACES) automotive trends. ACES involved increasing digitalization and adoption of I4.0 technologies in their development, which has changed the intra-firm relationships of the industry; and created major entry opportunities for new players, resulting in rapid changes in the global value and supply chains (Krzywdzinski, Lechowski, and Pardi, 2023; Wang, Zhao, and Ruet, 2022).

Even though these shifts were already perceived in the early 2000s, it is in the last years that several worldwide crises (i.e., climate crisis, COVID-19, financial) have pushed governments in the EU and the USA to accelerate the ongoing changes in this industry (Bergsen, 2020; Pardi, 2021) renewing the relevance of strategic technological alliances in the automotive sector. These alliances differ from the traditional auto trend in that they are teaming up with non-auto firms in the search for more efficient and high-powered [electric] vehicles (i.e., the Ionity alliance), autonomous driving (i.e., BMW alliances with Intel and Aptiv, among others), and car-sharing (i.e., Honda-General Motors, BMW and Mercedes-Benz). Therefore, the strategy seems to be to search market participation and the future domain in (I4.0) technologies (Sigal, 2018).

The research design is divided into two parts. In the first part of the analysis, the study conducted an extensive systematic literature review on strategic (technological) alliances in the automotive industry. This analysis allows us to present the main types of alliances discussed in these articles and their main characteristics. The second part of the analysis enriches the discussion with an empirical presentation of the evolution and characteristics of inter-industry alliances based on an original author-compiled dataset of global alliances between 2018-2023. This data set is an author-compiled dataset constructed from March 2018 to December 2023 (n=309). The dataset was developed by combining data from specialized platforms, business press, industry reports, newsletters, and magazines. The database selects inter-industry technological cooperation through agreements and alliances towards the automotive sector,
including relationships between and across not only OEMs and OES but mostly ICT firms, non-automotive companies, and other economic sectors.

The preliminary findings identify a new ecosystem shaping the automotive global value chain, in which stakeholders diversify their roles, finding, for example, governments as investors and not only as regulators, as well as a greater role of non-traditional auto firms, particularly in the design and implementation of ACES technologies (mostly on electrification and autonomy), with ICT firms pushing the frontier of these type of technological cooperation.

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