Innovation Studies Utrecht (ISU) working paper series, 2009.
Dominant design, expectations, prototypes, hydrogen, and fuel cell
The notion of dominant designs deals with dominance in the market and the dominant design is thought to be dominant because of market selection forces. The notion thus ignores the possible selection that takes place in pre-market R&D stages of technological trajectories. In this paper we ask the question whether pre-market selection takes place and if this can lead to an early dominant design. Furthermore we study what selection criteria apply during this phase, in the absence of actual market criteria. We do so through an analysis of prototyping trajectories for hydrogen vehicles. Prototypes are used by firms in their internal search process towards new designs and at the same time they are means of communicating technological expectations to outsiders. In both senses, prototypes can be taken as indicators of technological trajectories in the ongoing search process of an industry for the dominant prototype design of the future. Using prototypes as representation of intermediate outcomes of the search process, a dominant design can possibly be recognized also in a pre-market phase of development. We analyzed the designs of prototypes of hydrogen passenger cars from the 1970s till 2008. In our analysis we try to show to what extent the designs configurations of the technological components, converge or diverge over time. For this we compiled a database of 224 prototypes of hydrogen passenger cars. The database describes: the car’s manufacturer, year of construction, type of drivetrain, fuel cell type, and capacity of its hydrogen storage system. We draw conclusions with regard to the convergence/divergence of the prototypes’ designs and the role of diverse performance criteria therein. We conclude that there is convergence towards a dominant design in the prototyping phase; the PEM fuel cell combined with high pressure storage. Performance played a role as selection criterion, but so did regulation and strategic behaviour of the firms. Especially imitation dynamics, with industry leaders and followers, seems to be the major explanatory factor.