Building a more sustainable car, from the headlight to the tailpipe

In the 1970s, Chrysler’s television commercials highlighted the “rich Corinthian leather” of its vehicles. This meaningless sentence, i...


In the 1970s, Chrysler’s television commercials highlighted the “rich Corinthian leather” of its vehicles. This meaningless sentence, imagined by marketers and cooed by the actor Ricardo Montalban, has become emblematic of what defines a luxury vehicle.

Fifty years later, those words have been replaced by elements that create a new concept of automotive luxury: recycled PET bottles, coffee grounds and tree fiber.

“The definition of a premium automobile is changing,” said Rüdiger Recknagel, Audi’s environmental director. “Now is the one who uses the best materials with the least environmental impact.

As companies around the world focus on reducing the impact of their products on the environment, automakers are turning away from traditional hard-to-recycle materials, such as leather and plastics, and looking for alternatives that continue to grow. convey quality. In manufacturing, too, they have switched to recycled components with the aim of using fewer resources and reducing emissions.

Recycled materials make up 29% of a BMW vehicle, said Patrick Hudde, BMW vice president for sustainable supply chain. The company obtains 20 percent of its plastics from recycled materials, as well as 50 percent of its aluminum and 25 percent of its steel.

At Audi, the Mission: Zero program hopes to achieve a 30% reduction in vehicle-specific carbon dioxide emissions by 2025 compared to 2015, and achieve carbon neutrality across its network by 2050; which includes suppliers, manufacturing, logistics and dealer operations.

General Motors expects to have 50% sustainable content by weight in its vehicles by 2030, said Jennifer Widrick, the company’s director of global colors and trim. The company defines sustainable materials “as those which do not deplete non-renewable resources or disrupt the environment or major natural resource systems”.

And Volvo, the Swedish manufacturer, predicts that by 2025, 25% of its plastics will be biobased or made from recycled materials. In addition, it seeks to reduce its carbon footprint by 40% in four years, compared to 2018, and achieve climate neutral manufacturing at that time.

“We had to switch suppliers when they couldn’t meet our recycling standards,” said Anders Karrberg, head of global sustainability at Volvo.

Ford Motor expects that by 2035, half of its plastics will come from recycled or renewable materials, and that the company will be completely carbon neutral by 2050.

In addition to recycled metals and plastics, manufacturers are exploring the use of materials that were never previously considered viable for vehicle parts.

Ford, in partnership with HP, the printer maker, uses spent powders from 3D printers to create injection-molded fuel line clips on F-250 trucks. He identified 10 other parts that can be made from this material.

The company also has a partnership with Jose Cuervo, the tequila distiller, to use fiber from agave plants to strengthen window mechanisms. And late last year, he introduced the use of headlight housings made from coffee straw, the unusable skin of roasted beans, which he buys from McDonald’s. The result: a case with better heat deflection, said Deborah Mielewski, technical manager of sustainability at Ford.

The company plans to use orange and potato peels discarded by McDonald’s to make the plastic parts stronger, Dr Mielewski said. And he explores the use of nylon fishing nets, which are often only used at sea for a few weeks, to strengthen parts.

“I hate plastic,” Dr. Mielewski said. “I am always worried about its impact on the environment.

As much of the world devours, then throws away, single-use water bottles, automakers have found innovative ways to use them in manufacturing.

In markets outside the US and Canada, the seating material available in Audi’s new A3 compact sedan and its upcoming Q4 electric vehicle is made from recycled 1.5-liter PET bottles. For the A3, 45 bottles are used, crushed to create a pellet which is made into a polyester yarn, making up 89 percent of the seat material.

GM is also considering using PET water bottles that can be made into fabrics, including rugs. It already converts recycled PET plastic for wheel arch coverings and uses other recycled plastics for license plate and radio mounts.

Even Ricardo Montalbán’s quintessential definition of automotive luxury, leather seats, come under scrutiny.

Audi’s new premium E-tron GT electric vehicle will offer a black design package that uses Dinamica, a suede-like microfiber, for the seats. GM’s new electric Hummer will use man-made fibers for the carpets, seats and headliner.

Volvo’s luxury electric sub-brand Polestar uses a material it calls WeaveTech instead of leather. It is derived from PVC and resembles the material of wetsuits. The company’s goal is to make all of its interior materials from recycled PET bottles, said Fredrika Klarén, sustainability manager at Polestar.

Ms. Klarén believes customers will find WeaveTech as luxurious as leather. “If you make the material look good, you will make it acceptable to the buyer,” she said.

Despite its high price, the “Electric Hummer will be leatherless,” Ms. Widrick said. “We will use imitation leather with a technical, reproducible and non-organic grain. And Ford is considering a wide variety of leather substitutes, Dr. Mielewski said.

Lenzing, an Austrian company, creates fiber from trees grown in sustainable forests and supplies it to Range Rover for the seats of its Evoque. She is also working on projects with Audi and Volvo, creating a “sustainable luxury” woven material as a substitute for leather, said Georg Spindler, the company’s specialist applications manager.

Still, using the right materials isn’t the whole battle. When a vehicle comes to the end of its life, recycling sustainable products can still be a challenge.

BMW designs vehicles with a reduced number of larger components to facilitate recycling. Polestar wants to make sure that the foam, which would make recycling difficult, does not stick to its textiles.

And while it’s not an immediate problem, automakers are wondering how to ultimately recycle what will become millions of electric vehicle batteries and their manufacturing waste. In May, GM announced that it and LG Energy Solution would invest $ 2.3 billion to recycle battery materials, including cobalt, nickel, lithium, graphite, copper, manganese and aluminum, with 95% of the materials available for the production of new batteries. . The process emits 30 percent less greenhouse gases than standard methods.

And Audi is working with a German-Indian company to use recycled batteries to deliver green energy to rural Indian villages.

“These things make sense for humanity to do,” said Dr Mielewski.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Building a more sustainable car, from the headlight to the tailpipe
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