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'Technological Lock-in' and the Power Source for the Motor Car

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  • James Foreman-Peck,

Abstract

As the nineteenth century ended, three principal types of engine competed to power the early motor car. Had some minor condition been different around the beginning of the twentieth century, perhaps therefore todays road vehicles would not be powered overwhelmingly by internal combustion engines. That at least is an implication of the lock-in hypothesis. However the choice of product technology depended not on chance but at first on differential relative endowments of natural resources and capital. Abundant oil deposits and water encouraged the American development of lower first cost steam engines, which used more fuel and less capital. Electricity also was cheaper in the United States than in Europe, outside Germany. Since European endowments were not as auspicious for steamers or electrics at the turn of the century, European entrepreneurs focussed on the internal combustion engine. Judged by the rapid development 1895-1900, they chose the most progressive technological trajectory. By 1904, US motor firms were adopting European product technology and abandoning steam. By the end of the First World War they had also given up electricity.

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File URL: http://www.nuff.ox.ac.uk/economics/history/paper7/cars.ps
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File URL: http://www.nuff.ox.ac.uk/economics/history/paper7/cars_ps.zip
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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Economics Group, Nuffield College, University of Oxford in its series Oxford University Economic and Social History Series with number _007.

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Date of creation: May 1996
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Handle: RePEc:nuf:esohwp:_007

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Web page: http://www.nuff.ox.ac.uk/economics/

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Cited by:
  1. Paul A. David & Gavin Wright, . "General Purpose Technologies and Surges in Productivity: Historical Reflections on the Future of the ICT Revolution," Working Papers 99026, Stanford University, Department of Economics.
  2. Eftichios Sartzetakis & Panagiotis Tsigaris, 2005. "Environmental Externalities in the Presence of Network Effects: Adoption of Low Emission Technologies in the Automobile Market," Journal of Regulatory Economics, Springer, vol. 28(3), pages 309-326, November.
  3. Jane Humphries & Tim Leunig, 2007. "Cities, Market Integration and Going to Sea: Stunting and the Standard of Living in Early Nineteenth-Century England and Wales," Economics Series Working Papers 2007-W66, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
  4. Marechal, Kevin, 2007. "The economics of climate change and the change of climate in economics," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 35(10), pages 5181-5194, October.
  5. Liam Brunt, 1999. "An Arbitrage Model in Crop Rotation in 18th Century England," Oxford University Economic and Social History Series _032, Economics Group, Nuffield College, University of Oxford.
  6. Nathalie Lazaric & Kevin Maréchal, 2010. "Overcoming inertia: insights from evolutionary economics into improved energy and climate policy," Post-Print hal-00452205, HAL.
  7. Malerba, Franco, 2002. "Sectoral systems of innovation and production," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 31(2), pages 247-264, February.
  8. Liam Brunt, 1999. "An Arbitrage Model in Crop Rotation in 18th Century England," Economics Series Working Papers 1999-W32, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
  9. Guillaume Daudin, 2008. "Domestic Trade and Market Size in Late Eighteenth-Century France," Economics Series Working Papers 69, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
  10. Foray, Dominique, 1997. "The dynamic implications of increasing returns: Technological change and path dependent inefficiency," International Journal of Industrial Organization, Elsevier, vol. 15(6), pages 733-752, October.

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