We need to hold manufacturers to account on sustainability
Does the company that made your car really care about the planet? How much has your car truly impacted on the environment, from the time it was manufactured to the trips you’ve done in it this week?
Clarity is not easy, and answers are complicated, but transparency from car brands will be a key selling point going forwards, especially for your children and grandchildren, who will be far more savvy about carbon footprints and net zero carbon values than we are. There will be no pulling the wool over their eyes, no repeat of dieselgate for the electric generation.
Stellantis, parent company of Peugeot, Citroen, Vauxhall, Alfa, Fiat, Jeep, Maserati, Dodge, DS, Ram, Abarth, Chrysler and a few others, has laid out its groundwork and vision. “We are going to be the industry champion in climate-change mitigation. Period” Carlos Tavares, Stellantis’s boss, boldly stated at an investor conference in Amsterdam earlier this year.
As Stellantis is the owner of so many global marques and the builder of so many cars across the planet, we should all at least sit up and listen, and then ask some questions.
At the Vauxhall Astra launch, Stellantis’s UK boss, Paul Willcox, spoke about 2038 as the year of “carbon net zero” for all these brands, adding 2030 as the deadline for halving all its emissions. Everyone nodded, but what does that actually mean? 2038 is less than 16 years away. All those brands building all those cars will require a Herculean effort to change course on a global level, across all areas.
Tavares breaks down that strategy under the strange pan-European-speak of “Dare Forward 2030”. Which in turn is about two basic areas that underpin automotive manufacturing: energy consumption and design. It’s time for the circular economy to come into force to govern the principles of both (well done to Alison Jones from the UK for securing that plumb job at global VP level within the company). Instead of the well-trodden path of manufactured goods worldwide being the “cradle to grave” route, the circular economy must create “cradle to cradle” paths within it for goods, including cars.
Stellantis breaks this down into four areas of action: repair, recycle, re-man, reuse. Tavares predicts that this independent “circular economy” unit within Stellantis will generate revenues of more than €2bn by 2030: recycling revenues alone are expected to increase tenfold in the decade up to 2030, with revenue from parts and services increasing by a factor of four. Battery refurbishing and vehicle reconditioning will both play big parts in that business model. There will be dedicated factories in North America and Europe for the circular economy gig.
As for the cars themselves, green materials include Fiat 500 and Panda seat textiles made from 100pc Recycled PET (30 per cent bottles recovered from the sea and 70 per cent post-consumer materials), and recycled polymers for the dashboard, console and bulkhead on the DS4 Crossback and Citroen Ami. It’s ok, but hardly equates to most of the interior of all cars comprising recycled materials, so good news that Stellantis has formed scientific partnerships looking not only at new materials but the wider application of them.
Obviously it’s better to build greener cars in the first place than look to recycle everything, which in turn demands energy, so Stellantis is focussing hard on its electric-car batteries. Repair centres across Europe will look to maintain the efficiency of batteries above 70 per cent for as long as possible. After they reach that threshold they will go to Battery Expertise Centres for remanufacturing, before finally being recycled, when the plan is for a greater recovery of quality raw material at recycling for use in new batteries. Boy, will Stellantis need to nail that one given the volume of EVs it sells. Battery-life cycle management is at the heart of the group’s circular economy strategy.
Finally, if anyone thinks the car brands are getting off lightly, given the weak amount of recycled or sustainable materials currently in most new cars, consider the recycling mandates imposed on them: there is a 95 per cent materials recovery requirement by vehicle weight, and 85 per cent re-use or recycle of materials with traceability processes in place (i.e., you must record the weight of the materials recycled and their substance for analysis).
Stellantis now offers a full range of remanufactured parts for the customer aftermarket - remanufactured parts now account for 35 per cent of aftermarket parts available. Last year, 64 per cent of engines, 65 per cent of gearboxes, 38 per cent of clutches, 48 per cent of injectors, 60 per cent of alternators and 62 per cent of particulate filters sold in Europe and north America were remanufactured.
It’s not a sexy story of using fish skins and ceramics to replace leather and wood, but it’s a crucial part of the story, and we’d all do well to stay on top of it.