How Are Car Manufacturers Building Sustainability into the Auto Industry?

October 8, 2018

Electric car charging

Cc-by-sa-3.0 Michael Movchin

Introduction

For the first time ever in 2016, over 70 million cars were manufactured in a single year. While there’s no doubt that automobile manufacturing has had a deep impact on the environment, awareness of best practices in this space are essential to reducing harm and increasing sustainability.

Progress

One of the most well-known instances of sustainability efforts involved with the automobile industry is the eco-friendly car. Generally, an eco-friendly (also referred to as a “green” or “clean”) vehicle is one that is designed to produce less harmful impacts to the environment than comparable internal combustion vehicles. That usually means that they run on alternative fuels, like ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD), a blend of ULSD and biofuels, or ethanol. However, even some highly fuel efficient vehicles are classified as eco-friendly, since they reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions as well.

Electric vehicles (EVs) are a type of eco-friendly car that are becoming increasingly popular. These days, EVs have top-of-the-line battery technology, faster charging, greater range and lower costs than ever before. And consumers have a greater choice in type of vehicle too, from compact cars to SUVs. Thanks to improved battery life, some EVs can go up to 400 miles on a single charge, making it a feasible alternative for many drivers, though range limits are still worrying for some. Hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) are another type of eco-friendly electric car. Combining an internal combustion engine with an electric propulsion system, these cars are able to achieve better fuel economy than traditional automobiles while still satisfying range requirements. Making use of cutting edge technology like regenerative brakes that convert kinetic energy to electricity, these cars help to reduce greenhouse emissions and pollution.

Possible Issues/challenges

Though the industry has made considerable strides toward sustainability, the road has not been easy. Challenges like varying emissions requirements between different countries and even states has had an effect on sustainability efforts.

Other barriers exist too. Sustainability isn’t cheap, and strict regulatory standards are in place in many regions. Enterprises must follow these regulations closely. But the automotive industry is also highly competitive and rapidly evolving. With best practices and quality standards changing, staying on top of current trends is imperative. It’s also essential for manufacturers to guarantee safety and compliance throughout the supply chain while balancing environmental and health concerns. It’s not always an easy calculation.

Let’s take emissions requirements, for example. In the United States, there’s a federal standard for how many pollutants can be released by a vehicle. As for the state of California, they’ve created their own stricter regulations. And that’s for a good reason — California is one of the largest automobile markets in the country, and the city of Los Angeles alone contains upwards of 6 million cars. Manufacturers must keep in mind that the cars that might pass emissions tests outside California might not meet the requirements within the state. Though the upfront cost of complying with stricter regulation might be more expensive, if it allows the car to be sold in a bigger market it may be worth it.

Varying emissions requirements is only one aspect of sustainability that automobile manufacturers must be aware of. Organizations that seek to promote sustainability in auto manufacturing must consider the entire manufacturing chain of a car. For example, an electric car that doesn’t use any fossil fuels contributes less pollution when it runs. But if the electricity to power that car comes from fossil fuels, what’s an accurate way to measure the car’s ecological footprint? Regulations are challenging to navigate, but the entire process of sustainable manufacturing is a complex web in and of itself.

Looking to the future

Though there are certainly challenges to merging sustainability efforts and automobile manufacturing, there’s hope for the future in this area. Bloomberg Business predicts that as eco-friendly electric cars begin to saturate the mainstream market, they will actually become cheaper than conventional cars within about a decade. Though some skeptics say this is too optimistic, there’s no doubt that consumer interest in sustainability is high.

One of the biggest influences that could drive innovation in the sustainable automotive manufacturing space is government. With encouragement like subsidies or tax breaks, governments could have a large impact on sustainability efforts by making it easier for consumers to take the plunge and buy eco-friendly cars. They could also spend money on research to encourage manufacturers to find ways to drive down costs of eco-friendly cars, benefiting consumers and the planet.

Conclusion

Sustainability has become an important factor in automobile manufacturing. Though it is still more costly for manufacturing and for consumers, interest in sustainable automobiles has increased. From better manufacturing practices to developing cars that use less fossil fuels over their lifetime, sustainable vehicles have never been so widespread or accessible. The environmental benefits of widespread adoption of sustainable automobiles would be huge, since the transportation sector is responsible for 14 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. As more research is conducted, more car manufacturers commit to sustainable practices, and more innovation occurs, the percentage of emissions should decrease. Sustainable automobile manufacturing has an important part to play in the future of environmental efforts.

 
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