PhD Defence: Upgrading across Organisational and Geographical Configurations - Analysis of the Chinese Automotive Industry

In his dissertation ‘Upgrading across Organisational and Geographical Constraints – [An] Analysis of the Chinese Automotive Industry’ ERIM’s Erwin van Tuijl examines the upgrading, or process of learning and knowledge sourcing in generating value, of the Chinese automotive industry. Erwin examines this learning process in a series of case studies for different institutional arrangements, both formal and informal, and discusses several avenues for improvement (such as specialist co-location).

Erwin defended his dissertation in the Senate Hall at Erasmus University Rotterdam on Thursday, 4 June 2015. His supervisor was Professor Leo van den Berg. Other members of the Doctoral Committee included Professor Rob van Tulder (EUR), Professor Meine van Dijk (EUR), and Professor Jan van der Borg (Ca' Foscari University of Venice).

About Erwin van Tuijl

Erwin van Tuijl was born on 4 December 1982 in Rotterdam. He grew up in Krimpen aan den IJssel and later in Lekkerkerk. After finishing his athenaeum, he did his master Urban, Port and Transport Economics at Erasmus University in Rotterdam. It is here where he started his academic life as a PhD student. Currently, he works as a researcher and lecturer at Regional, Port and Transport Economics (RHV) and the European Institute of Comparative Urban Research (Euricur), Erasmus University in Rotterdam. He has been involved in various international studies in Western- and Eastern-Europe, Latin America and Asia, on topics such as ‘the role of manufacturing in the new urban economy’, ‘design in the urban knowledge economy’, ‘anchoring events in the urban economy’, ‘energy transitions in cities’ and ‘urban agriculture in the knowledge economy’. His main research interests are in the fields of regional economics and economic geography, and include the geography of value chains and regional development, knowledge economy, innovation strategies of firms, upgrading, and manufacturing. His work has been internationally published in among others two books of the Routledge series ‘Cities and Regions’ and in journals such as ‘European Planning Studies’, ‘Journal of Business Strategy’ and ‘Environment and Planning A’.

Thesis Abstract

This thesis deals with upgrading: a process of learning and knowledge sourcing in order to generate value added. We analyse how upgrading takes place across various organisational configurations: formal collaboration, clusters, projects, and events. Moreover, we investigate the process of upgrading within, as well as between, different spatial scales, and analyse the role of different actors, upgrading mechanisms, and the symbolic and synthetic knowledge bases. We study the upgrading process in a number of empirical case studies of the Chinese automotive industry.

We find that in addition to upgrading in formal collaboration – through joint-ventures in particular – upgrading also takes place in other organisational configurations. We unveil that clusters and events are of particular importance for upgrading via ‘monitoring’ and ‘buzz’. Hereby, we stress the critical role of event organisers as ‘temporary cluster managers’, acting as a bridge between the global and Chinese automotive industry. We also show the importance of the project configuration which crosses over other organisational configurations, and upgrading in projects takes place via nearly all upgrading mechanisms. In addition, we provide new empirical evidence for the importance of physical co-presence of different specialists in the automotive industry on the (temporary) local scale to enable non-verbal communication, while on the other hand, we demonstrate that upgrading of the synthetic and symbolic knowledge bases has a global dimension as well.

Photos: Chris Gorzeman / Capital Images