Technological capabilities for Electric Vehicles: A study focused on Brazilian automotive industry

Type de publication:

Conference Paper


Gerpisa colloquium, Paris (2017)


Brazilian automotive industry, Electric Vehicle, Technological Capabilities


Advances in emission regulations and the effects of oil price fluctuations are forcing carmakers towards new product designs that use innovative technologies in order to increase the energy efficiency of vehicles and decrease environment impacts (Freyssenet, 2011). Among the technological paths for the automotive industry within such context, the electric vehicles (EVs) – both Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) and Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) – are highlighted as alternative technologies to internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEVs) . Regarding the development of technological alternatives to fossil fuels, Brazil has a successful history with the National Alcohol Program (Pró-álcool), launched in 1975 after the first oil shock. This program helped to consolidate the country position as a global pioneer in the use of biofuels (Furtado, Scandiffi &Cortez, 2011; Mello, Marx and Souza, 2013). Nowadays, the Brazilian automotive industry is characterized as a strategic and very important sector for the generation of employment, providing a significant proportion of national revenue (ANFAVEA, 2015). Looking at R&D sphere , the sector accounted for almost 23% of the industrial R&D expenditure, reaching the amount of US$5,347 million in investments in 2012. If Brazil wants to remain an important actor in the automotive scene, it is mandatory that it develop technological capabilities (Teece, Pisano e Shuen, 1997) to manage, handle and absorve (Cohen and Levinthal, 1990) the approaching transformation in the automotive market. Furthermore, the country must avoid being locked in a single, mature technology, such as IC engines (Arthur, 1989; Mello, Marx and Souza, 2013). Brazilian Government hasn't taken a position if the country will leap into electric mobility or not (Barassa, 2015). If the government decide to develop EVs technologies in Brazil, it´s mandatory a favorable institutional environment to such development. This environment is the outcome of public policies, favorable infrastructure, consumers acceptability and also, technological capabilities. Bringing the discussion about the electric mobility and the possibilities to Brazilian automobile industry develop competencies in this sector, some questions arise: Does Brazilian automotive companies presents technological capabilities in the scope of R & D, production and commercialization of electric vehicles, components and infrastructure ? What extent foreign firms installed in Brazil are involved in the process of enhancing local capabilities to EVs? How is set the production chain linked to electric mobility in Brazil, regarding to the potential to develop, produce and market electric vehicles? The paper explore these questions by analyzing the technological capabilities that the companies (national or foreign capital) belonging to the automobile sector and research institutes installed in Brazil presents regarding the electric mobility. To achieve this objective, we used a methodology that combine qualitative/quantitative approaches. Qualitative work was conducted by the application of semi-structured interviews at large automotive manufacturers and global suppliers, at industry associations, consultancies as well as with academics, throughout the period comprehended between September 2015-February 2017 in Brazil. Quantitative work was fulfill through an approach based on patent data and bibliometric indicators, covering the period 1995-2016’s. Results of the study appointed 489 patents deposited in Brazil related to electric vehicles design and structure, hybrid powertrain, electric buses and lithium batteries. It´s a modest number in comparison to the international patenting dynamic and demonstrate the incipient development of EV´s capabilities in Brazil. The patents were deposited by foreign companies (49%), individual inventors (41%), universities (5%) and national companies (5%). Among the foreign companies, there are Japanese automakers such as Toyota, Honda and Nissan; electric-electronic by companies such as LG Chem and General Electric; Buses assemblers such as Scania, Volvo and Man Truck & Bus; It's possible to identify new players such as China's ( represented by BYD and the State Grid Corporation of China); and auto parts companies such as Valeo. On the other side, individual initiatives demonstrate capabilities in light electric vehicles, electric buses/trolleybus equipment, and electric vehicles powered by alternative energies. These patents are individual efforts made by entrepreneurs, however without strength and robustness to market innovation. Universities and R&D Centers presents a small participation and their main interests are methods to recover kinetic energy and Energy Management Systems for EVs. Finally, concerning national companies, it should be emphasize the role of local players such as Eletra Company (electric buses), Sometra Industry and Construções Elétricas Eltec (electric buses autoparts). Local competences are related to hybrid vehicles, lithium batteries, electric motors, charging systems for EVs, and hybrid systems for heavy vehicles (buses, trucks). Regarding bibliometric indicators, we identified 430 articles published mainly by Brazilian Universities (some written in partnership with assemblers and electricity distribution companies). Papers addressed issues such as: Batteries, charging systems, secondary batteries, hybrid vehicles, Smart Grids, Electrical distribution networks, energy efficiency, among others. In addition to these publications, we identified dissertations and theses related to electric mobility, 32 research group specific to EVs and approximately 6,400 undergraduate programs in different areas of engineering (chemistry, electric and electronics, automotive, mechanics) This represents the construction and training of human resources capable to work in EVs and can support future research on this area. Our conclusion is that Brazilian automobile industry presents absorptive capacity and technological competences necessary to play in EVs segment in terms of Hybrid powertrains and electric buses. Another conclusion is that we identify the actors (companies, government agencies and public research institutes) and the conditions (consolidated automobile market, networks of relationships among the agents, know-how and technologies); but Brazil are not looking at this trajectory currently and is still devoting expressive efforts for flex fuel vehicles development.

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