This paper presents how complex system architecture lifecycles, such as that of cars, follow a similar S-curve shaped path as that of individual technological innovations. By applying this theory we show that today’s automotive industry has started a new chapter of architectural competition with similarities to its early history from 1885–1915 when steam, electric and internal combustion engine cars were competing to dominate the automotive market. Taking a historical perspective, we find that firms that organize their development activities to focus on bringing about architectural innovation are better placed in succeeding in the future market until a new dominant architecture emerges. The architecture lifecycle framework used in this study is constructed by means of a performance index. The index scores the performance of 91 cars of various architectures based on five overall system variables: power, weight, maximum velocity, fuel efficiency and the manufacturer’s suggested retail price. Depicting architectural performance over time helps identify periods of architecture competition and dominance where historical agents to change can be identified. The key factors that brought about architectural competition in the early 1900’s involved a series of innovation breakthroughs in engine and fuel technologies. Today, a new wave of power train innovations is being triggered primarily by environmental regulatory demands to reduce vehicle emissions. Future research lies in presenting a methodology for selecting vehicle architectures early on in the product development cycle that are best suited for the market going forward based on a manufacturer’s goals and a cost-benefit analysis.

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