Dr. Jason Begley, Applied Research Centre in Sustainable Regeneration (SURGE), Coventry University, UK 

Dr. Grzegorz Micek, Institute of Geography and Spatial Management, Jagiellonian University, Poland 


The aim of this Research Network is to compare and contrast the development of the Low Carbon Vehicle (LCV) sector in three regions in which the participating partner institutions are located – Piedmont, Italy, Upper Silesia & Małopolska, Poland and the West Midlands, UK. By examining a range of key factors impacting on the sector in these states – including economic concerns, differing regulatory practises, policy drivers and the response from public and private stakeholders – a clearer understanding of how the sector has emerged over recent years will materialize. Creating this network and exchanging information on the LCV sector will in turn allow improved measures to be identified by partner institutions to aid in the development of the sector at regional levels, but will also have important learnings for the national and supranational expansion of the LCV sector also.

The development of the LCV sector has been necessitated by the global challenge of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the de-carbonising of transport networks worldwide. Central to this process is an enormous shift away from traditional Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) transport technologies – powered by the consumption of fossil fuels – toward greener vehicles with a smaller carbon footprint. This transition has seen the emergence of a significant industrial segment within the global automotive industry, the Low Carbon Vehicle (LCV) sector. In turn this newly emergent sector has required major policy intervention by international, national and regional actors to promote the development of the LCV sector and the use of LCV technologies in passenger and commercial vehicles.

As Dicken notes, technological change is not a deterministic process, its use is conditioned by social and economic factors.[1] The use of a new or emerging technology is typically dependent on business enterprises electing to maximise profit, market share or investment opportunities by developing technological advantage. However, in the instance of LCV technology, the process of change is being driven primarily by policy at regional, national and supranational levels. Initiatives, such as the Kyoto Protocol (February, 2005), and EU carbon emission regulations (E.g. EC No 443/2009 and EU No 510/2011) have established the policy framework for automotive producers, forcing them to provide a range of different vehicles to meet targets set by environmental regulations. At regional and national level policymakers are interpreting these regulatory structures and creating the environment in which the automakers must operate. This has included national initiatives to promote the use of LCVs, for example vehicle subsidies and the widespread roll-out of charging posts for LCVs utilizing electric engines. At a regional level the decision by policy makers to introduce the use of congestion charges (in the Greater London area for example) and the creation Low Emission  Zones (limiting high-emitting vehicles in certain areas such as has occurred in Turin, Italy) has also served to create pressure from below on producers. The response by the European automotive industry to these pressures from above and below has been to focus on a number of LCV technologies; hydrogen vehicles, electric vehicles and hybrids, CNG powered vehicles (particularly buses) as well as Ethanol-based solutions. However, this production process has not been uniformly pursued across regions and states, nor has the promotion and take-up of these vehicles been homogeneous by stakeholders and consumers, respectively.

Although the concept of national automotive producing brands can no longer be considered accurate due to the transnational nature of the automotive sector, European producers remain very much Eurocentric in their production processes, as well as being products of their histories and guided by their particular geographies. Because the acquisition and communication of tacit knowledge are strongly localized geographically, there is a tendency for localized ‘knowledge pools’ to develop around specific activities. Firms are induced to innovate by conditions that are found in the market for products, as well as by the behaviours of consumers and competitors.[2] Different actors located in different regions, challenged by different circumstances and resources to draw on, may react to prevailing economic and regulatory conditions in very different ways, with quite different regional outcomes. Therefore, communication, technological spillovers, interactions and learnings across firms are essential to the technological dissemination process.

Playing a central role in this process are systems of innovation. As Miozzo notes different elements of these systems are inter-related and inter dependencies are important in terms of specialization and production.[3] Sources of innovation in such systems include; business firms, educational institutions, public sector research institutions, public policy making units, financial institutions, legal institutions, trade unions and political organisations. These networks of public and private institutions modify and diffuse new technologies through their actions and interactions.[4] Importantly, Freeman argues that a nation or a region with limited resources may experience rapid catch-up or progress through imported technology and local adaptation and development. Conversely, poor decision-making/organisation may see resources being wasted and ineffective methods adopted. The import of this argument is that by developing networks of communication and sharing information, observation and analysis of emerging trends in a particular sector –  in this instance the LCV sector – can inform decision-making and speed up the process of technological diffusion by adopting better processes and innovations.

In terms of the three countries from which the partner institutions are drawn, all three have had very differing developmental pathways associated with the motor industry in general and the LCV sector in particular, determined very much by their historical and geographical background. In the UK the bulk of efforts to promote the LCV sector are currently focussed on the subsidisation of purchases of new hybrid and fully electric private motor cars by consumers. Parallel to these initiatives has been the roll out of charging points and other infrastructure to promote the use of the vehicles amongst UK consumer, with the majority of these actions occurring in the metropolis of London. Alongside such consumer promotions has been substantial investment in regional demonstrator projects and active encouragement of automotive producers in the UK to engage with LCV technology in terms of R&D, marketing and advertising. To date these approaches have had limited impact, with the numbers of LCVs in circulation in the UK automotive fleet at a little over 1.1% of new registrations.[5]

Similar to the UK, Italy has also invested significant capital in R&D related to EV technology (Industria 2015 has set aside €180 million for e-mobility projects) and has also made use of extensive subsidisation – however, these subsidies apply to vehicles powered by a range of sources including LPG, methane, electric and hydrogen. Notable too is the regional approach to promoting LCV motoring in Italy. Bologna, for example, was the first city in Italy to implement a road pricing policy based on the support of an Intelligent Transport System (ITS) in 2006. In other areas the use of Low Emission Zones have targeted polluting vehicles in a bid to reduce air pollution and reduce carbon emissions e.g., Rome, Napoli and the Piedmont region.  

In contrast, LCV policy in Poland remains very much unresolved, the subject of much internal and external debate. The failure to sign up to the EU's Low Carbon Roadmap for 2050 in March 2012 (being to agree on intermediate milestones) is indicative of the indecision that has beset Polish policymakers. While there has been discussion on an eco-tax and subsidisation, to date Poland remains wedded to supporting the use of biofuels to reduce carbon emissions, possibly due to the influence of neighbouring Germany where biofuels have also enjoyed heavy promotion. However, the use of environmentally friendly fuels has also had important implications for the commercial vehicles; for example, EcoFund (the Polish environmental foundation) has financed the purchase of public transport CNG buses, while  the new domestic bus manufacturer, Solaris, has emerged as one of the major European producers of environmentally friendly (hybrid) buses.[6]

The specific regions that the partner institutions are located in, while traditionally being firmly rooted in the automotive industry, have also had very differing experiences of developing the LCV sector. Coventry University is located in the West Midlands region, an area that is routinely perceived as being at the heart of the UK automotive industry. However, the end of volume production of passenger cars in the region, with the closing of the Peugeot Ryton plant in 2006[7], alongside the lack of internationally recognisable national brand has left the region susceptible to the vagaries of globalising forces. The automotive sector in the West Midlands, which includes the manufacture of motor vehicles, engines and associated components, as well as motor vehicle wholesale, accounts for around 4% of total regional employment and also represents approximately 14% of total national employment in the automotive sector. The cluster is relatively dispersed across the region, from a geographical perspective. 85% of jobs are urban-based, primarily concentrated in Birmingham, Coventry and Solihull. The cluster comprises approximately 1,500 companies employing 115,000 people and accounts for 28% of total UK output of automobiles and components. However, the cluster has seen a marked decline over the last number of years. In 2010 the Office for National Statistics recorded the numbers involved in the manufacture of vehicles, components, trailers and semi-trailers to be 36,000; in 2000 this figure stood at 70,000.[8] In part this decline can be attributed to the global downturn in trade following the financial crisis of 2007/8, but the problems faced by the automotive cluster can also be located in industrial structural challenges that date back to the mid 1970s.[9] The development of the LCV sector has been perceived as an opportunity to upscale and modernise the industry, revitalising the cluster and generating new employment opportunities. Demonstrator projects (such as CABLED[10]) have developed alongside initiatives such as the niche vehicle network to promote the sector, but with limited success. Recent European funded projects, such as INTRASME[11] have attempted to map the LCV sector to determine the full scale of its development.

Regional differences still remain stark in Italy, with economic dualism a persistent feature of the Italian state. However, the notion of a North-South divide has increasingly been replaced with a North, Centre and South tri-regional model, with further sub-divisions into North-West and North-East Italy, and Southern Italy into mainland and the more isolated islands. The North-West is dominated by urban lifestyles and large-scale industry. Around this Piedmont-Lombardy area is a ring of regions traditionally supplying labour to the core. However, in recent years small-scale industry has begun to establish itself in these mixed rural-urban regions, slowing this flow. The CNR-Ceris institute is based in the North-West Piedmont region, in close proximity to the Turin-Piedmont automotive cluster. With over 1,200 companies, 80,000 employees and an annual turnover of €15 billion, the cluster is dominated by the Fiat Group. However, there is also significant representation from over 200 engineering firms at the core of the cluster. These firms have a worldwide business profile, with about 50% of their revenues coming from international contracts and a number of partnerships. The cluster encompasses all automotive sectors: cars, light and heavy commercial vehicles, buses and earthmoving machines.

In terms of the LCV sector, Piedmont has long been a hub for major technical innovations including the electric engine as early as the 19th century. The region also hosts HySyLab, which focuses on producing and  stocking hydrogen, as well as its commercial applications. The lab also has close links with the Fiat Group Research Centre, where  hydrogen fuel cell development for vehicles is researched. The centre has developed the first Italian hydrogen bus. Knowledge and understanding of the advanced research into hydrogen powered vehicles would be of great interest and benefit to both their UK and Polish counterparts.

Jagiellonian University, in the city of Kraków, is based in the Małopolska region. Although Małopolska is the name of one of Poland's 16 administrative provinces, historically the area associated with this name was significantly larger stretching from Czestochwa in the West to Lublin in the East. From a Polish perspective, the East-West divide has declined in importance somewhat, but still remains in evidence (with proximity to Germany proving advantageous for most Western regions) in most socio-economic indicators; income per capita, unemployment rates, FDI inflow, conditions of economic and cultural infrastructure, entrepreneurship. The Małopolska region does not quite fit this profile neatly, however, having enjoyed a degree of rapid regional transformation since the mid 1990s, though concerns over declining heavy industry and the urban/rural divide still persist.[12]

The neighbouring Upper Silesian region is one of the largest European urban conurbations with hard coal production as its primary industrial activity. In the last two decades the region has undergone a substantial restructuring with massive foreign investment, mainly in automotive production attracted by good accessibility and a highly-qualified industrial workforce. Fiat Auto Poland (Tychy and Bielsko-Biała) and General Motors Manufacturing Poland (Gliwice), car and light commercial vehicle makers, are situated amid a large cluster of major suppliers of auto parts and components, for example Isuzu Motors, Eaton, Fiat-GM Powertrain, Valeo, Hutchinson, Lear and Saint-Gobain Glass.  The main producer of trucks is MAN located in Niepołomice in the Małopolska region, where several supplier plants can also be found. The Upper Silesian and Małopolska regions now represents one third of total employment in the automotive sector in Poland.

Developing LCV solutions and incorporating them into vehicle production in the Silesian automotive cluster represents an opportunity to exploit new market niches as well as meet the stringent carbon emission standards established by the EU. Additionally, representatives from Jagiellonian University are aiming to develop learnings acquired from the more developed LCV sectors in the West Midlands and Piedmont and apply them also to bus manufacturers in close proximity to the region (such as Autosan at Sanok) and longer term to pursuing sustainable public transportation solutions (based on, for example, Coventry’s electric bus, park and ride scheme, the Fiat Group Research Centre’s electric bus).



This application seeks to gain access to seed funding for exchange visits between members of participating institutions to facilitate the study of the developing LCV sector in the identified regions of the West Midlands, Piedmont and Upper Silesia & Małopolska. The value of the proposed research network would be in bringing together internationally recognised academics from partner institutions located in regions with both a strong automotive presence, but also with an emerging LCV component to the sector. The research focus of the network would concentrate on comparing and contrasting the development of the LCV sector across nations and regions, informing and demonstrating what initiatives haven proven successful in growing the sector from the perspective of private and public stakeholders, e.g. policy units, automakers, component suppliers, consumers etc: How successful the various stakeholders have been in encouraging LCV production and consumption, what practices have enabled this development and how such practices could be implemented both horizontally and vertically across nations and regions.

The three selected partner institutions are from regions and states with varying approaches to the development of LCV policy, displaying contrasting approaches to developing the sector. A comparative exercise would enable the growth of a strong research network that could explore opportunities to identify policy practises that would prove beneficial across regions. These academic networks will also lay the foundations for further inter-regional and inter-institutional research projects that will prove highly beneficial to early career researchers seeking link-ups with other international organisations and academics working in their areas of research interest. Furthermore,  with the partner institutions also committed to engaging with stakeholders from both the automotive sector and regional policymaking units, these triple helix actors will generate new transfers and applications of knowledge related to the LCV sector through the newly created research network. Ultimately such efforts will identify successful themes and approaches that can also inform and influence regional, national and supranational initiatives.

Through the auspices of the automotive research network Groupe d'Étude et de Recherche Permanent sur l'Industrie et les Salariés de l'Automobile (GERPISA) the proposed partners already have the foundation for an international relationship. The provision of funding from the Regional Studies Association will add real value to this academic connection by facilitating the expansion and strengthening of the existing relationship among the partner institutions.

Adding further value is the fact that Coventry University has already undertaken mapping exercises of the LCV sector (focussing on SME engagement) in Piedmont, Italy, the West Midlands, UK and Upper Silesia & Małopolska, Poland, through the FP7 funded INTRASME project and would be able to draw on the findings associated with that work. The dissemination of the outcomes arising from that project would prove of great interest and benefit to the partner institutions.


The aims of the project can be identified as follows:

Develop a Research Network (further developing existing links established through the GERPISA network) focussing on understanding and promoting the development of the LCV sector in Piedmont, Italy, Upper Silesia & Małopolska, Poland and the West Midlands, UK.

Engage in three LCV themed dissemination events at each of the participating institutions, each of which will include representation from internationally recognised experts in the automotive field of research. 
These events will be used to:

– identify emerging trends in the LCV sector in the respective regions;

– contextualise policy initiatives;

– analyse ongoing private and public regional LCV transport initiatives (such as Coventry’s electric bus, park and ride scheme, the Fiat Group Research Centre’s electric bus);

– disseminate information from ongoing mapping exercises of the sector (this would include analysis of INTRASME project outcomes);

– and identify and analyse LCV consumption patterns.


Recommendations arising from the three events would be further disseminated to both public and private stakeholders and academic institutions.
Finally, further opportunities for joint research and funding applications for work related to the LCV sector will also be pursued.

[1] Dicken, P. Global shift: mapping the changing contours of the world economy, New York: Guilford Press, 2011.

[2] Antonelli, C., and P. David, [ed.] New frontiers in the economics of innovation and new technology: essays in honour of Paul A. David. Cheltenham : Edward Elgar, 2006.

[3] Miozzo, M. International competitiveness and technological change. Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2006.

[4] Freeman, C. Technology, policy, and economic performance: Lessons from Japan. London: Pinter Publishers, 1987.

[5] The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), 2012.

[6] Domanski, B., R. Guzik, and K., Gwosdz “Environmental pressure in the fragmented markets: the rise and the fall of bus-makers in Poland.” European Review of Industrial Economics and Policy, 3 (2011).

[7] Donnelly, T, Begley, J & Collis, C (2013) ‘The West Midlands Automotive Industry: The Road Downhill’ in Business History [forthcoming December 2013].

[8] Office for National Statistics, 2010.

[9] Donnelly, T, Begley, J & Collis, C (2013)

[10] The Coventry and Birmingham Low Emission Vehicle Demonstrator (CABLED) consortium was the UK’s largest trial of electric and ultra-low emission vehicles. The CABLED project ran from 2009 to June 2012. It showcased electric cars across Birmingham and Coventry, making ultra-low-carbon vehicles available to real users and collected data on everyday use.

[11] INTRASME aims at improving the capacity and capability of European SMEs to more rapidly develop and implement products and services in the low carbon transportation and smart mobility sectors focusing on the changing role that SMEs have on innovation mechanisms for the transport sector. For more information see INTRASME homepage:

[12] Blazyca, G., et al. ‘Poland-Can Regional Policy Meet the Challenge of Regional Problems?’ European Urban and Regional Studies. 9 no. 3 (2002): pp. 263-276.



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