Ghosts of the Past or Facilitators of the Future? : Firm-System Interactions in the Transition to Electrified Goods Transportation

Abstract: If you visit Linköping, you have good chances to see electrified cars, or you may even take a ride on an electric city bus. However, you will have some difficulty spotting one of the very few electric trucks operating in the city. The transition to a road-based goods transportation system with electrified trucks is much slower than the transition to electrified passenger transport in Sweden. Part of the explanation for this are the profound system changes required to realize a competitive electrified goods transportation system, a system that involves different firms with significantly different resources and varying relationships to existing system structures. This thesis aims to contribute to transition studies by mapping out how firm-system interactions unfold during an ongoing sustainability transition. Therefore, attention is placed on how dynamic transition processes are affected by firms with stakes in the emerging socio-technical system for electrified goods transportation. The thesis also emphasizes the firms' limitations in shaping the environment in which the electrified trucks will operate. The data on which the thesis is based was collected within the context of two research projects, both funded by the Swedish Energy Agency and affiliated with the Swedish Electromobility Center. The data collection included observations at 42 industry events and 34 semi-structured interviews with different actors involved in the development of electrified goods transportation in Sweden. In addition, a literature review was conducted based on articles in the research community of transition studies, highlighting how established firms in the automotive sector handle major transitions of socio-technical systems.   In general, the thesis contributes to the ongoing discussion in transition studies about the role of firms in transitions. In particular, there is a vivid discussion about two issues in this research community: how established firms can contribute to ongoing transition processes and how to understand the interactions between firms and systems during ongoing transitions. This thesis synthesizes the results of five articles to address these questions in three main ways. First, the thesis contributes to the discussion on incumbent firms with an "extreme" empirical case of system reconfiguration, characterized by the interactions between two socio-technical systems where incumbent firms play the role of users and producers in both systems. The thesis describes how different incumbent firms have different system functions and different resources and how these functions and resources are reshaped as the new system emerges. Second, the dissertation contributes with a conceptualization of two types of interactions between firms and systems, covering how the firm can influence the emerging system and how feedback from the emerging system travels back to the firm. The thesis nuances the academic discussions on firm-system interactions by considering the possibilities of established firms to strategically invest in a favorable dynamic of co-evolution between their own resources and the emerging socio-technical system. Third, the thesis develops analytical tools to investigate how incumbent firms can influence changes in their environment by contributing to the design of favorable future markets and to understand how incumbent firms influence problem-solution couplings during transitions.   

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