Developing a business innovation perspective of electric vehicle uptake: lessons from Milton Keynes' electric vehicle programme

Valdez Juarez, Alan Miguel (2015). Developing a business innovation perspective of electric vehicle uptake: lessons from Milton Keynes' electric vehicle programme. PhD thesis The Open University.



Electrification of transport forms a major part of British policy for energy and climate change. The formation of the early market for Electric Vehicles (EVs) has been supported through consumer subsidies, regulatory support, and programmes for the deployment of electric vehicle charging infrastructure, but uptake does not seem to be proceeding at the rate needed for meeting policy objectives.

The approach pursued by policy actors is consistent with the approach of Strategic Niche Management (SNM), which would call for the creation of protected spaces to facilitate the development of new sociotechnical configurations. The Plugged-in Programme (PiP) in Milton Keynes is an example of creating a protective space. A comparison of PiP and other case studies in the literature of sociotechnical transitions identified a gap in SNM that may shed light on the limitations of EV policy in the UK. Traditionally, SNM has been used to monitor and manage interventions in support of prototype or pre-production vehicles. In consequence, there is no precedent for its application in support of early market technologies.

The market introduction of innovative technologies can trigger interrelated technological and behavioural changes, affecting the preferences of producers and consumers while altering the demand structure of the sector. However, SNM does not account for the patterns of use and demand implied in what remain largely technological templates for the future.

This thesis begins to develop a framework for the analysis and management of early market strategic niches. Insights from a second discipline, that of social marketing, were sought to complement the analytical tools of SNM. Social marketing is useful for understanding the effect of behavioural and market factors on the adoption of innovative technologies. Social marketing provides a framework for analysing and influencing behaviour in socially beneficial directions. Behaviour and choice are modulated through the application of a marketing orientation, identifying and addressing needs and creating valuable offerings.

This research is centred on organizational users of electric vehicles (EVs), and explores the effectiveness of the policy portfolio for addressing the needs of early adopters and for building an early market for EVs. Thematic analysis, a form of qualitative content analysis, is applied to evidence from documentary sources, participant observation and interviews with key organizational actors in the community of pioneering and prospective EV users. The analysis draws on concepts from SNM and social marketing to explore previously neglected forces affecting the early market for EVs, with particular focus on the increasing importance of market selection and the competition presented by an entrenched but socially undesirable incumbent.

Contrary to the expectations of policy actors, financial incentives and infrastructure deployment have a limited impact on the choices made by organizational actors. This thesis shows that the processes of learning and embedding that take place within the niche need to be multidimensional. Before a choice can be made, pioneering and prospective adopters of EVs invest considerable effort in the collaborative construction of new patterns of use and demand. This process can be supported by empowering interventions that identify suitable applications (creating multiple sub-niches within the niche) and facilitate the co-construction of new, competitive configurations around them. The models and networks created through this multidimensional, collaborative process translate into capabilities that give distinct advantages to pioneering adopters, allowing them to expand beyond their original niche and outperform the incumbents in mainstream markets.

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