Mobility Drives Us

MIT Sloan Assistant Professor David Keith conducts research into alternative fuels as they relate to the automobile industry. He has studied what factors influence vehicle purchase decisions, and created a management flight simulator that allows companies to consider different scenarios related to alternative fuels.

David Keith is an alumnus of the MIT Engineering Systems Division PhD program and an Assistant Professor at MIT Sloan whose work focuses on alternative fuels in transportation. He studies decision-making around hybrid vehicle purchases, and recently co-developed a management flight simulator that provides members of the automotive industry with an opportunity to think collectively and strategically about alternative fuel vehicles.

Many options, little consensus

There has been much discussion around developing alternatives to gasoline-powered cars, but little coalescence around a standard fuel source. “Hydrogen, biofuels, electricity, and even natural gas have been discussed,” says Keith, “but no one fuel has made its way to the forefront. Part of the challenge is understanding why we choose what we choose.”

Keith’s research into alternative vehicle sales examines to what extent people are influenced by social contagion versus gas prices and government incentives. “It’s the ‘How much more comfortable do I feel purchasing a hybrid because my neighbor already owns one?’ question,” Keith says.

His team has also developed a flight simulator for the automotive industry. “Every organization approaches this (alternative fuels) with different concerns and objectives,” Keith says. “The simulator draws on these tensions and can be a starting point for identifying common ground.”  The game has been run in MIT Sloan’s Sustainability Lab (S-Lab), and Keith is currently working with Jason Jay and John Sterman to bring together carmakers, suppliers, fuel companies, and charging station companies to participate in their own run of the simulation. “There is no one right answer to addressing these issues,” Keith says. “But when you bring people together, that’s when you start the conversation.”