Supporting Role in Global Research and Development Networks: Automotive Technology Centres in Viet Nam

Type de publication:

Conference Paper


Gerpisa colloquium, Paris (2019)


Co-evolution, global production network, Research and development, Viet Nam


Production and R&D networks have long been investigated from different perspectives. Also, various typologies for classifying production (Ferdows 1997; Shi/Gregory 1998; Vereecke et al. 2006; Ferdows et al. 2016) and R&D (Hood/Young 1982; Pearce/Papanastassiou; von Zedtwitz/Gassmann 2002) networks have been proposed.   However, their (potential) relationship has not been studied in depth so far. This is a gap in the existing research and addressing it is crucial as in manufacturing industries, links between product development and manufacturing operations are regarded as mutually beneficial.
Cheng and colleagues (2015) explored the linkages between production and R&D networks based on case studies of four firms. They identified different types of relationships between globalising production and R&D, namely interactive globalisation, separated globalisation, and a possible combination. However, they pointed out that further research was needed to substantiate tentative findings. Their preliminary typology is applied to the case of automotive suppliers’ R&D activities in Viet Nam.


Viet Nam was chosen for two reasons: First, Cheng and colleagues investigated firms from the machinery industry and pharmaceutical producers. Investigating the automotive industry which is a prime example of producer-driven global commodity chains (GCCs) (Gereffi 1994: 97-100) theoretically should allow us to investigate different dynamics. From the theoretical standpoint of GCCs, a not insignificant of customers on suppliers’ location choice may be observable. Second, Viet Nam was chosen to circumvent the influence of market pull logic.  As Cheng and colleagues observed for some cases, co-evolution of production and R&D may be initiated by setting up production in a large market such as China and subsequently followed by the cultivation of R&D capability to cater to the local market. By choosing Viet Nam, this dynamic is unlikely to occur as the country is not a major global market that initially justifies a dedicated R&D facility to foster product development for the domestic market.


Investigated cases indicate that the typology proposed by Cheng and colleagues (2015) may have to be extended. Automotive parts suppliers operate different pairings of manufacturing and R&D subsidiaries, some fitting the interactive type and some fitting the separated type of globalisation. Large multinational enterprises (MNEs) from various industries may also operate complex networks of both R&D and production to take advantage of location factors. Hence, it may useful to map networks into a matrix which indicates the three different types by different locations.


Vietnamese R&D centres fit the type of separated globalisation, in that they exclusively serve higher level R&D functions located in other countries. Investigated cases suggest that Vietnamese engineering staff lacks capabilities required for higher level R&D functions and thus is confined to marginal roles supporting more advanced R&D activities. Simultaneously, firms with R&D subsidiaries in Viet Nam consider ways of upgrading in order to utilise staff for more challenging tasks.


As for general network globalisation typology, findings indicate that large MNEs from the automotive industry may contain sites that fit to different categories of the typology developed by Cheng and colleagues (2015). Therefore, we propose to modify the original typology to map to which extend networks simultaneously combine subsidiaries of different types. We argue that such a simple modification may help to identify patterns within and comparison between industries.


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