Vehicle Electrification in China: Preferences, Policy, and Technology Trajectories


Friday, January 26, 2018, 12:00pm to 1:30pm


Baker 103, Bloomberg Center, Harvard Business School

Economics of Science and Engineering Workshop

SPEAKER:  John Helveston ( Institute for Sustainable Energy at Boston University)
SEMINAR TITLE: Vehicle Electrification in China: Preferences, Policy, and Technology Trajectories

Paper 1: Will subsidies drive electric vehicle adoption? Measuring consumer preferences in the U.S. and China 

Paper 2:  The Unlikely Institutional Origins of Experimentation in China's Plug-in Electric Vehicle Industry 

Summary: John will be presenting a summary of two studies based on his dissertation research on the development and adoption of plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) in China. The first study. models consumer preferences for conventional, hybrid electric, plug-in hybrid electric (PHEV), and battery electric (BEV) vehicle technologies in China and the U.S. using data from choice-based conjoint surveys fielded in 2012–2013 in both countries. The study finds that American respondents have significantly lower relative willingness-to-pay for BEV technology than Chinese respondents. While U.S. and Chinese subsidies are similar, favoring vehicles with larger battery packs, differences in consumer preferences lead to different outcomes: Chinese consumers are willing to adopt today’s BEVs and mid-range PHEVs at similar rates relative to their respective gasoline counterparts, whereas American consumers prefer low-range PHEVs despite subsidies. This implies potential for earlier BEV adoption in China, given adequate supply. The second study investigates the institutional origins of divergent innovation trajectories by Chinese firms in China's PEV industry. Triangulating annual vehicle make and model sales data; 112 English and Mandarin archival documents from industry, academic, and news outlets; and 51 semi-structured interviews across industry, government, and academic stakeholders, we develop four in-depth case studies. We find that in contrast to the innovation trajectories of the multinational and Chinese arms of joint venture (JV) firms, independent domestic Chinese firms (those with no historic JV partnerships) are undertaking significant experimentation in China’s PEV industry. Our results suggest that the national JV regulation combined with local market protection and subsidies may be supporting the emergence of regional “laboratories” for diverse experimentation by Chinese independent domestic firms across the PEV technology platform. While this diverse experimentation may be an important antecedent of technology transition, consolidation enabled by policy or competitive pressure may be required for PEV innovations to scale beyond their early, protected regional markets.


See also: SEWP Seminar, SEWP, 2018