The Theory of Productive Models. Developments and Perspectives


Boyer R., Freyssenet M., The Theory of Productive Models. Developments and Perspectives, key note, 24th GERPISA International Colloquium “The ‘new frontiers’ of the world automotive industry. Technologies, applications, innovations, markets”, Instituto Tecnologico Monterrey, Puebla, Mexico, 1-3 june 2016. Digital publication,, 2016, 2 Mo, ISSN 7116-0941.

Boyer R., Freyssenet M., Slides presentation: The Theory of Productive Models. Developments and Perspectives, key note, 24th GERPISA International Colloquium “The ‘new frontiers’ of the world automotive industry. Technologies, applications, innovations, markets”, Instituto Tecnologico Monterrey, Puebla, Mexico, 1-3 june 2016. Digital publication,, 2016, 974 Ko, ISSN 7116-0941.

The text and the slides presentation are downloadable. Please, go to the bottom of this page.


Fifteen years later the publishing of Productive Models, we can comment the ability to help to better understand the transformations of the past and recent automotive industry. We shall also draw some new prospects.

We can resume the analytical framework in few words. Firms develop different profit strategies, by privileging one or two profit sources. There are two main conditions for sustainable firms profitability: the relevance of profit strategy in national growth modes, and the consistency of the productive model built to implement the chosen profit strategy, thanks to a company government compromise.
Carmakers were never and can never be profitable, only because applying any miraculous solutions, that are announced periodically: as lean manufacturing, best practices, "disruption", benchmark, service or financial activities, "new economy”, factory 3., 4., 5., 6.0, new mobility, and so on...

The Productive Models schema was born of the need to understand four surprising facts, that the investigations realized by Gerpisa members and others researchers had highlighted:
- a carmaker can be profitable with a low productivity, and vice versa
- the constantly profitable carmakers did not privilege the same sources of profit
- a carmaker with a clear profit strategy can be profitable in a country and not in another
- a carmaker with a relevant profit strategy in a country could be unprofitable.

The elaborated tables are tools to analyse firms and countries trajectories. They allow to compare the reality to the theoretical possibilities and requirements of their profit strategy. Doing that, we can evaluate the degree of relevancy and of coherence of the profit strategy and productive model of the studied carmakers. Ditto for the countries, comparing their effective trajectory and their strategy of growth.

The relevance of analysis tools depends on its ability to question the changes occurred after its elaboration. Since 2000, the Productive Models schema was used to analyse more than twenty occurred changes. Six are presented.



1. First fact: a firm can be profitable with low productivity, vice versa. Hence the choice of profitability, not productivity, as the criterion of performance of firms

2. Second fact: the constantly profitable car manufacturers did not choose the same ways. The identification of several sources and profit strategies
2.1. The identified sources of profit et their definition
2.2. Were all profit sources identified and correctly defined? A source of profit cannot be considered as such, if it is not totally independent
2.3. From “profit sources” to “profit strategies”
2.4. Automakers according to their choice or ... not of a profit strategy
2.5. Why we named the preferences for some profit sources: “profit strategy” ?
2.6. Is the ranking of firms reliable?
2.7. The ranking of firms according to their profit strategy, does it changed since 1995?
2.8. How did arose the idea of distinguishing profit strategy and productive model? The relevancy conditions and the implementation requirements of the profit strategies

3. Third fact: A carmaker with a clear profit strategy can be profitable in a country, and not in another. From the idea of national context to the concepts of national growth strategy and model
3.1. What is necessary and sufficient for a source of profit to be exploitable and a profit strategy relevant? The first condition of profitability is the relevancy of profit strategy of carmaker in the countries were the carmaker is located. The relevancy depends on the national growth strategy and model of these countries.
3.2. The testing of the relevance of profit strategies according to growth modes
3.3. Does determinants of automotive demand and of labour reduce to growth mode?
3.4. Distinguish national growth strategy on the one hand, and national growth model on the other hand, allows to take into account, dynamically, all the determinants of automobile demand and of mobilized workforce
3.5. The changes in 25 years

4. The fourth fact: A carmaker, with a relevant profit strategy in a country, could be however unprofitable in this country. From generic productive models, to different national productive models implementing the same profit strategy.
4.1. The second condition to profitability: build a "company governance compromise", which allows to implement the chosen profit strategy, using coherent and acceptable means by stakeholders, that is to say to build a productive model
4.2. Designing a productive model as a compromise to meet the requirements of a profit strategy is a way of thinking that solves many research problems
4.3. The previous typology presents, however, two problems
4.4. The governance compromises that based the productive models change also in time

5. The productive models theory proposed six tools to investigate the trajectories of firms and of countries
5.1. To four tables and three figures, previously presented, we can add a sixth tool
5.2. How to use these tools?
5.3. Types of reasoning and theory

6. Events and evolutions of the last 15 years, that Productive Models analysis schema has allowed to better understand, and sometimes better anticipate
6.1. Merger, acquisition, alliance: ones companies involved, ... not others
6.2. Globalisation or regionalisation? Firms competiveness and regions attractiveness
6.3. The trap of financial and wage deregulation, in which GM, Ford and Chrysler fell
6.4. The different forms of externalisation and manufacturer–supplier relationships
6.5. Modularisation, electronisation and new paths towards commonalisation and innovation
6.6. The second automobile revolution has begun. Several scenarios are confronting


Key words

Automobile, Productive Models Theory, analysis tools, main changes in automobile industry.

Concerned disciplines

Economics, Management, Geography, History, Political Science, Sociology

Writing context

to personal questioning
to scientific reflection of research laboratory or network
to national and international scientific debate
to diffusion of scientific results
to implementation of scientific results

References, commentaries, critics

Current relevance

See also
- Freyssenet M., Une expérience de construction de concepts communs aux sciences sociales. Les programmes de recherche quadriennaux (1992-2014) du GERPISA, réseau international. Colloque International Recherche&Régulation 2015 « La théorie de la régulation à l’épreuve des crises », Paris : 10-12 juin. Édition numérique,, 2015, 444 Ko, ISSN 1776-0941.
- Freyssenet M., « To pursue the macro-micro links analysis, discussing the both notions : "growth mode" and "productive model", La Lettre du GERPISA, novembre, 2004, n°179. Édition numériques:, 2004;, 2006, 130 Ko.
- Freyssenet M., « Developping analytical tools to identify the ‘Fordian model’ in Europe », in Bonin H., Lung Y., Tolliday S. (eds), Ford 1903-2003, The European History, Paris : PLAGE, 2003, vol 1, pp 45-60. En anglais par un éditeur français en première publication.
- Freyssenet M., Wrong forecasts and inexpected changes. The World that changed the machine, in Freyssenet M. (ed.), The Second Automobile Revolution. Trajectories of the World Carmakers in the 21st century, Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009, pp 7-37. Édition numérique :, 2009, 396 Ko, ISSN 7116-0941.
- Boyer R., Freyssenet M., Entre innovations historiques et contraintes structurelles : éléments d'une théorie des modèles productifs, Couverture Orange, CEPREMAP, n°2002-05, avril 2002, pp 1-85. Édition numérique,, 2009, 1,3 Mo, ISSN 7116-0941.

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