Catching recurring waves: low-emission vehicles, international policy developments and firm innovation strategies

René Bohnsack, Ans Kolk, Jonatan Pinkse*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


Low-emission vehicle (LEV) technologies have grown in the 1990s, but have since experienced fluctuating interest. Initially, electric vehicles (EVs) were the most promising technology. Most large car firms developed EVs and started bringing them to the market, in limited numbers. Yet, car firms halted their EV engagement around 2001 and focused on hybrid vehicles (HVs) and fuel-cell vehicles (FCVs) instead. Hybrids found their way into the product portfolios of most car manufacturers while FCVs failed to gain traction. In 2006, car firms again committed to EVs, and on a larger scale. To better understand recurring waves of firms' low-emission-vehicle investments in the international context, this paper explores the influence of geographically-bound government policies on car firms' innovation strategies. An analysis of archival data from 1997 to 2010 details LEV-specific developments per region/firm, and shows the complex interplay between policies on local, national and international levels and firms' strategies. Three mechanisms seem to shape the international LEV trajectory: (1) international policy diffusion (vertically and horizontally), (2) firms' international operations, and (3) fit between policy requirements and firm capabilities. Heeding the call for a better geographical conceptualization of technological trajectories, this paper also proposes a framework that explains co-evolution between government policies and car manufacturers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)71-87
Number of pages17
JournalTechnological Forecasting and Social Change
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Co-evolution
  • Firm innovation
  • International policy
  • Low-emission vehicles


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