Paving the Road to Low Emission Vehicles

Borgstedt P, Neyer B, Schewe G

The automotive sector is facing major industry shifts due to the technological change regarding alternative powertrain systems (low emission vehicles). Although automotive suppliers create the majority of value added in car manufacturing, scientific as well as public discussion on this topic focuses heavily on the role of car manufacturers. In order to better understand the supply industry, in our presentation we explore technological strategies of suppliers with regard to internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEV), hybrid electric vehicles (HEV), battery electric vehicles (BEV) and fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV). The underlying question is: which suppliers are predominantly involved in the development of low emission vehicles? From the theoretical perspective concerning disruptive technologies, new market entrants will challenge the dominant design of the internal combustion engine. On the other hand previous research has shown that both established suppliers as well as market entrants from other industries are of increasing importance to powertrain innovations and play a key role within the production of low emission vehicles. Our main contribution is to identify those suppliers or new market entrants that pave the way towards low emission vehicles and to analyze to what extent these firms contribute to the further technological development. In the long run, these firms will most likely be more successful compared to non-innovative firms. While technological trajectories of car manufacturers can be analyzed in several ways (e.g. examine prototypes or production vehicles), measuring innovative output of automotive suppliers is more challenging. Furthermore, our research question asks for an explorative approach that allows identifying firms that have not been in the scope of research so far. We therefore use a longitudinal patent analysis as a measure of innovative activity. For the period of 1990 to 2013, patent data is collected for each powertrain technology (ICEV, HEV, BEV, FCEV). To ensure a valid dataset we use an elaborate combination of IPC-classes and keywords. Technological strategies of the firms are exposed by using the Revealed Technological Advantage (RTA) as a measure of specialization over time as well as the h-Index as a measure of patent quality. Several researchers have referred to the fact that patent analysis is not free from limitations. A main problem of each patent analysis is the comparability of different entities, such as single firms or groups of firms. By applying relative indicators (such as the RTA) within a single industry, these limitation can be counteracted. Moreover, a patent application does not necessarily entail a further commercial use: Although a firm is not interested in an industrial application, it can apply for a patent just to prevent competitors from developing an invention. We use the h-Index to give those patents a greater weighting that are of high importance for the market. Analysis of data takes place on firm-level as well as on an aggregated level (e.g. top 100 global automotive suppliers, new market entrants). With a dataset of over 91,000 patents we can show clear specializations as well as underdeveloped areas: except for few firms with highly valuable patents, established suppliers show a significant lack of innovative activity in alternative powertrain technologies. A breakthrough in FCEV or BEV would therefore benefit these few established suppliers and many market entrants from different industrial sectors. Our results contribute to the discussion on the technological change in the automotive industry in several aspects. First, we identify those firms that – although not in the center of public and research attention – specialize on alternative powertrain systems. These firms will have a major impact on future developments in that area. Second, we can show that measuring the Revealed Technology Advantage in different technologies over a period of 24 years allows a detailed analysis of strategic changes.

Publication type
Research article in proceedings (conference)

Peer reviewed

Publication status


25. International Conference for Management of Technology (IAMOT)