From an initial enthusiasm towards benefits of inter-organizational relationships aimed at co-engineering components and systems, the literature started highlighting that the choice of basing innovation processes on external sources, in order to be successful in the long term, needs to be associated with the development of internal competences and sophisticated inter-organizational practices. The study presented in this article analyzes the development of vertical relationships in the Italian automotive industry. In line with international practices, the Italian supplychain has developed following a hierarchical and multi-level logic. Nevertheless, it seems to lack the ability to exploit all advantages of distributed innovation. The study identifies two main reasons, connected to each other: 1) the scarce qualification of human resources, which makes difficult to improve internal innovation activities; 2) the limited reliance on external sources of innovation, with the consequent impossibility to exploit synergies offered by client-supplier relationships.
Keywords: Inter-firm relationships, networks, innovation, automotive