Towards a sustainable automotive industry : experiences from the development of emission control systems

Abstract: From the mid-1970s and on, the contribution to air pollution of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides from gasoline passenger cars in the developed world has been reduced through co-evolution of regulation and commercial introduction of catalytic emission control technology, now part of hundreds of millions of cars, trucks and buses worldwide. This dissertation is a disaggregated study of the global introduction of catalytic emission control technology as a measure to reduce local air pollution. The introduction of the “three-way” catalyst for gasoline passenger cars is studied for four countries. Present innovation in diesel engine emission control is studied. Technological change is analyzed regarding the process of innovation, the innovation system and its stakeholders. Results are evaluated for implications for innovation and regulatory policy for coming environmental challenges. Automotive catalysis is an example of environmentally motivated innovation, including problem definition, public regulation, corporate market and non-market strategies, invention, variety, selection, technology transfer, mass diffusion and the ongoing coevolution of emission-abating policies and technical development. Common denominators for successful technological or market innovations is a participatory dialogue around structured and tiered regulatory roadmaps, international competition, support by international networks and conducive local public opinion. The near-global introduction of the three-way catalyst was complex and highly dependent on local context and conditions, suggesting that any general “global” innovation and regulation strategy to address present and future local or global problems must be reviewed with an understanding of local barriers and drivers for environmentally motivated innovation. Given the stakeholders and technical challenges of different technological regimes to mitigate climate change, it is concluded that increased fuel efficiency and the introduction of plug-in hybrids are possible trajectories for sustainable mobility.