internal combustion engine discontinuation

internal combustion engine discontinuation


A major trend in automotive drive engineering to replace fossil fuel combustion car engine technology by (battery) electric engine technology, a trend that has been speeding up since the global economic recession in the late 2000s; this case serves as example for a utterly unstructured or “wicked” situation in which it is not at all clear yet how far the old technology can be redefined as obsolete and needed to be actively thrown out, where neither knowledge nor value base is agreed upon and feasible technical and political solutions not in sight. For policy-makers and governance it is not all certain what effects their impulses will have. The combustion car regime one of the longest-standing and most robust socio-technical regimes in modern history (Geels 2005). For quite some time  engineers, managers and politicians, in various ways and partially in advocacy coalitions, are planning to discontinue or at least to shrink market for combustion-based automotive drive engineering technologies (Callon 1983; Geels 2002; Mom 2004; Schöller 2007; Canzler/Schmidt 2008; Canzler/Kaufmann/Kesselring 2008; Canzler 2010).

Cars with combustion engine have been banned in some cities totally (e.g., Zermatt/Switzerland since 1966) or partially (Hagen/Germany since 2007), mostly due to ecologic reasons or as means to reduce intra-urban traffic. In many big cities road pricing has been introduced (e.g., Oslo 1990, London 2003), partially accompanied with special permits for electric vehicles, thus providing incentives to use or even to buy them. In the last few years many national governments launched major initiatives to promote research on electric vehicles and to develop prototypes (e.g., France 2009, China 2009, Germany 2010, EU 2010). In some countries pilot projects have been launched to test electric vehicles in practical use and to develop the infrastructure needed (e.g., Mercedes-Benz in the city of Ulm, Ford in the city of Cologne).[1] France even subsidizes the purchase of electric vehicles and uses public procurement as a means to foster the development.[2] A number of small and formerly unknown manufacturers (Tesla, Streetscooter and others) have presented fully operational cars, whereas the big German automobile manufacturers were lagging behind for quite some time and started delivering electric vehicles only recently. The discontinuation strategy in this field can be characterised as soft termination by gradual replacement, triggered among others by trying out new options.

Since there is no ban on the combustion engine, as a third option of hybridisation comes in, providing a soft transformation without a hard cut. Nevertheless, the Center of Automotive Research (CAR) expects all cars sold in Europe in 2025 will have electric or hybrid engines.[3] There is almost no coordination between national policies, but a sharp competition between incumbent manufacturers and new firms, which stem from other business sectors such as electric energy production or are newcomer garage firms or start-ups, respectively. Additionally the balance seems to be shifting within industry (from automotive to energy industry) and between continents (from “old” Europe to Asia). Given the inertia of the combustion engine regime it is an open question, whether the discontinuation in the field will succeed.

[2]   Cf.ät (22 September 2011). The Deutsche Post recently announced to order 20.000 “Streetscooters”, build by a startup firm from RWTH Aachen (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 14 September 2011).