Competing technologies and the struggle towards a new dominant design: the emergence of zero emission vehicles
Marko Hekkert, Department of Innovation Studies, Netherlands, Robert Van den Hoed, Delft University of Technology, Netherlands
The internal combustion engine is one of the most persistent established technologies of today’s world. However its dominance might be eroding due to very stringent air pollution standards set since the early 1990s, particularly in California. Many expect that the required emission levels for cars will become so strict that the internal combustion engine will not be able to reach these targets. This opens up possibilities for alternative technologies, possibly leading to a new dominant design.

The most promising option for the future according to many is the fuel cell vehicle fueled by hydrogen. With its high efficiency, low emissions and potential use of non-fossil fuels the fuel cell vehicle promises true sustainable mobility. Since 1997-1998 the vast majority of the automotive industry has embraced the fuel cell, leading to large development and testing activities in preparation for commercialization in the coming years. The fuel cell vehicle seems to be the only alternative to easily achieve strict emission legislation.

The widespread enthusiasm for FCV technology has captured attention from another technological alternative: the hybrid vehicle. This vehicle combines an internal combustion engine with an electric drive train to boost efficiency performance. Previously positioned as only an intermediary term solution, several signs point to an increasingly important and dominant role of the hybrid vehicle for the future car.

In this paper we describe the dynamics of technology development regarding fuel cell and hybrid technology using socio-technical analysis. The analysis shows that hybrid technology should not be overlooked as a candidate for becoming the dominant design in the car industry instead of the fuel cell vehicle. We conclude with an outlook on the chances of the fuel cell vehicle and implications for policy makers to develop efficient policies to reach sustainable mobility.

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