How can we overcome transition challenges towards low carbon transportation?


The aim of this project is to develop an in-depth understanding of automotive market transformations, and in particular how alternative fuel vehicle (AFV) markets are shaped through the co-evolution of organizational capabilities, consumer choice, complementary infrastructure, and the institutional environment. Diffusion challenges and strategies for contemporary AFVs – hybrid electric vehicles, electric vehicles, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, and so forth - involve overcoming a number of chicken-and-egg problems. For example, for electric cars to become the dominant mode of transportation, several key changes need to occur simultaneously: private or public actors must approve an extensive charging infrastructure; private–public partnerships must emerge to build the infrastructure; consumers must become familiar with and develop trust in the technology; regulators and insurers must give consent; producers must design and produce a portfolio of suitable models. In this project we examine the feedback interactions associated with these factors, individually and jointly. We further identify strategies for alternative fuel vehicle market formation.


In this project we use computational models to identify dynamics of and strategies for market formation for alternative fuel vehicles. Central in this project is a behavioural dynamic computational models with a broad scope. We examine a variety of scenarios considering technological, policy, and economic uncertainty. Further, from this model I developed a suite of smaller models that address more specific theoretical and policy-oriented questions about market transformation challenges, including tipping points related to consumer acceptance, and the role of infrastructure. The models have been developed with expert input using participative modeling workshops


Project period: 2003 – ongoing

Key people:  Jeroen Struben, David Keith, John Sterman

Contexts: Alternative fuel vehicles, electric vehicles, hybrid electric vehicles in the USA

Organizations: Shell Hydrogen, Ford Motor Company, General Motors, Environmental Defense Fund, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)

Total funding: $475,000 (principally: Shell Hydrogen, Ford Motor Company)

with practitioners from automotive and energy industry, as well as from government players and energy labs. These models are empirically grounded in available data, collected or derived from the literature. The recent gradual increase of AFVs in existing markets allows us to further develop and test hypotheses about market formation mechanisms.

Future Development

Future work focuses on dynamics of multiple platform interactions.

Alternative Mobility Transformation Project Outputs:
1. Academic Publications

Alternative Fuel Vehicle and Transition Challenges

A foundational paper for understanding transition dynamics towards alternative product categories, applied to the case of alternative fuel vehicles. The paper highlights in particular the acceptance dynamics of new products but also shows the importance of taking a broad scope.

More research within this project

2. Engaging Practitioners  
Insights produced from our research and the research engagements through which we work within and with organisations

Participative modeling workshops

MIT/Ford/Shell (2009):  A workshop organised to generate inputs from industry experts to inform research questions, help model development, and identify scenarios for analysis.

Insights Report

An illustrative report describing some of the key insights of an AFV transition analysis.

3. Media Coverage

Science Daily article (2007)

"Alternative Fuel Vehicles Will Be Tough Sell, But Policy Incentives Will Widen Use" 

New Scientist article (2007)

"US loath to give up gas guzzlers"

MIT News article (2007)

"MIT Sloan model: Sustained policy incentives, carbon taxes will widen alternative vehicle use" article (2007) 

Alternative fuel vehicles will be tough sell

Radio Austria, Earth & Sky podcast (2007)
Listen to excerpt (in German)


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