S1725 Societal Issues of the Automobile (Sustainable Development Sp. Track)

Lung Yannick

Course description

The automobile is a good theme around which to discuss some key societal issues. It has contributed significantly to economic development, the evolution of business models (internationalization, management, marketing, design), and the organization of modern societies (individual mobility, consumerism, urbanism) during the twentieth century and remains a key focus of debate in the context of present-day challenges: environmental problems, new urban mobility (smart cities), emerging countries (reverse innovation).

After an introduction, which will take a systemic approach to the automobile industry, the course will be organized in 4 thematic chapters, each one developing an historical approach.

The first chapter will analyze the evolution of the automobile product, from the first cars at the end of the nineteenth century up until more recent models, and the near-future vehicle (autonomous car). It will present the main steps in technological innovation associated with the product, and will be an opportunity to introduce the basic principles of the analysis of innovation. A specific section will focus on the evolution of car design.

The second chapter will describe the main changes in the automotive industry. It will present firstly the emergence and diffusion of industrial models – from mass production and Fordism to lean production and Toyotaism – which will provide an opportunity to introduce the institutional organization of an industry. Secondly it will display the different steps towards the internationalization of the automobile industry, discussing the role of multinational firms and changes in automobile geography. Thirdly, it will discuss the evolution of demand for cars.

The third chapter will review the societal impact of automobile, which has been the main symbol of individual freedom and the consumer society, and a focus of criticism of the latter. An historical survey of the evolution of its cultural role in our society will be proposed. It will be based not only on sociological analysis, but also on its representation in the arts (cinema, plastic arts). Its influence on the organization of cities will be analyzed, from the development of suburban society to the present-day reclamation of city centers and its new place within “smart cities”. The challenge of the “uberization” will also be discussed.

The last chapter will examine regulation issues associated with the automobile. It will look at the role of public authorities in supporting and regulating this industry. State interaction with the industry has to cope with contradictory factors: its leading role in international trade, economic growth and employment favours a strong support, while societal challenges (safety, pollution, accidents, traffic congestion) require increasingly severe regulation. It is an interesting lens through which to examine the influence of different lobbies on public authorities. A specific focus will be made on environmental issues.


Learning outcomes of the course

The course will provide an overview of the social and economic changes in our societies during the last century, and a methodology with which to discuss the present-day challenges associated with an industry such as the automobile sector, especially in the context of globalization and environmental challenges.