Die Diffusion von Eco-Innovationen im Spannungsfeld von Staat und Markt - Das Beispiel des Elektroautos in ausgewählten europäischen Ländern

  • The diffusion of eco-innovations between state and market – The example of electric cars in selected European countries

Manthey-Kloppenburg, Catharine; Fromhold-Eisebith, Martina (Thesis advisor); Pfaffenbach, Carmella Diana (Thesis advisor)

Aachen (2018)
Dissertation / PhD Thesis

Dissertation, RWTH Aachen University, 2018


Eco-Innovations like electric cars are a crucial element for the transformation of the transport sector towards sustainability. Since a high proportion of harmful emissions can be traced back to vehicles with combustion engines, electric cars are widely seen as a promising approach to meet global climate goals and to reduce particulate emissions in urban areas. Therefore, many European governments have implemented different incentive policies to promote the adoption of electric cars. While a few markets respond well to public funding strategies, others, despite numerous public incentives, are far from achieving the estimated targets. This leads to the assumption that other aspects, such as country specific pathways, actors and sociocultural factors, might have a major influence on diffusion processes. This doctoral thesis examined the multiple influencing factors for the diffusion of eco-innovations by taking the electric car as a current example. A specific focus was directed at different spatial developments in diffusions processes which, especially on a national level, have not yet been sufficiently discussed in research. In order to fill this gap a synthesis model was developed which combines acceptance and diffusion models from economics and social sciences considering recent geographical approaches, in particular “geography of sustainability transitions (GOST)”. The synthesis model allows a view on eco-innovations out of a micro-, meso- and macroperspective. It outlines the interactions and driving forces between policy, supply side and demand side while considering spatial characteristics. Therefore, it takes a much broader perspective on diffusion processes than existing models. The diffusion of electric cars in Germany, France, Austria, the Netherlands and Norway was analysed based on that model. Besides using secondary literature, country data and statistics an empirical study was conducted, consisting of 34 structured expert interviews and a standardised questionnaire with 677 participants. The analysis made clear that public incentives and their outcomes are strongly influenced by the supply side, i. e. the automotive industry. The example of Germany shows how their national automotive industry, due to its technological and economic strength in the combustion engine segment, has been blocking the diffusion process of electric cars for some time. By contrast, countries without an economically significant automotive industry, such as the Netherlands or Norway, were not affected by conflicting policy goals and therefore free in choosing appropriate instruments. The registration numbers of electric vehicles in these countries illustrate the successfulness of that approach. This underlines the importance of spatial contexts such as technology pathways or industrial specialisation at a national level. In addition, examples like France or Austria, in which policy and industry have both been promoting the diffusion without successful outcomes, emphasise the relevance of more spatial factors, for instance cultural dimensions. Research has shown that the acceptance of electric cars and other technological innovations is particularly low in countries that are characterised by a high level of risk avoidance. At the same time, pragmatic societies have a high affinity to technological innovations. These findings should be considered when incentive strategies are designed. A society that is open to technological innovations can be addressed with a different set of instruments than those that are sceptical about technological innovations. Furthermore, the analysis has shown that the ecological attributes of an eco-innovation have a low impact on consumer acceptance. The decision of some individual groups may be influenced by this factor. However, the majority can more effectively be addressed by emphasising additional attributes of the innovation. That includes for example individual benefits, a high fun factor or prestige that is connected to the innovation. Accordingly, an exclusive focus on environmental aspects in promoting strategies for eco-innovations is not sufficient. In conclusion the analysis has shown that the chances for an upcoming sustainability transition in the transport sector are much higher today than several attempts have shown in the past. Greater awareness of environmental issues in politics and society has created a window of opportunity for new competitors in the automotive industry which triggered a global marked dynamic in favour of electromobility.