Timing the Start of Material Substitution Projects: Creating Switching Options under Volatile Material Prices


  • Jan Hendrik Fisch,

  • Jan-Michael Ross

  • We acknowledge the support received from the Competence Center for Global Business Management, University of Augsburg, the Vice-President of the University of Augsburg, and Markus Mann (Deutscher Technologiedienst) to undertake this research. The authors are grateful to the editor of JPIM and anonymous reviewers for their help in improving this paper.
  • The authors are listed in alphabetical order.

Address correspondence to: Jan Hendrik Fisch, Institute for International Business, Department of Global Business and Trade, Vienna University of Economics and Business, Welthandelsplatz 1, 1020 Vienna, Austria. E-mail: jan.fisch@wu.ac.at. Tel: +43-1/31336-5120.


Firms developing new products often face the challenge of making investment decisions under uncertain input–cost conditions due to the price volatilities of the materials they use. These decisions need to be made long before the final products are launched on the market. Therefore, firms that invest in the opportunity to switch materials in a timely manner will have the flexibility to react to material price changes and realize competitive advantages. However, volatile material prices may also cause a firm to delay investment. Using real-options reasoning, this paper studies the influence of input-cost fluctuations on the timing decision to start new product development (NPD) and thus create the follow-on opportunity to later replace an existing product. A model that combines waiting and switching options to derive influencing factors of the flexibility value that triggers the investment is developed and tested on a sample of material substitution projects from manufacturing firms. The results show how price uncertainty of the new and the old material, their joint price development, the expected project duration, and competitive preemption are related to the propensity to delay the start of NPD. The findings provide new insights on how timing in adopting materials can be used to hedge exposure to volatile material prices. The insights are relevant for adopters and producers of new materials, as well as for policy makers who strive for supporting the diffusion of new materials.