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A greener steer
for the automotive industry

From launching electric vehicles to revamping their supply chains and facilities, car makers are driving towards a more sustainable future

Home life A greener steer
for the automotive industry
A greener steer
for the automotive industry

James Bond is going green. After decades of decadence – from sipping vintage Bollinger to parading Savile Row suits – 007 is to jump behind the wheel of an electric car in his next film. Admittedly it will be an Aston Martin Rapide E, so he’s hardly giving up the good life, but it’s a sign of the times when Bond starts to fight climate change as much as he does villains.

The pressure to behave more sustainably is increasing and the automotive industry, which has traditionally relied on the carbon-producing internal combustion engine, knows it has to adapt. 

Electric vehicles (EVs) are one solution and the automotive industry has put its pedal to the metal in the race to develop ever more efficient models. Global sales of plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) grew to almost 1.9 million in 2018 – up more than 70 per cent from 2017 – according to a new report from Navigant.

However, with EVs expected to account for only 8 per cent of the new car market by 2025, according to IHS Markit, the industry knows it has to do more. Its products must be more eco-friendly, from tyre to tail light, but so too must its sophisticated international production processes.

A greener steer for the automotive industry

The electric effect
The automotive industry is fully committed to boosting its production of EVs – and it’s not just urban runarounds like the Nissan Leaf that are going electric. Luxury brands – even those renowned for their huge and powerful combustion engines – are undergoing a paradigm shift. 

Porsche, for example, is investing $6.8 billion to electrify half of its models by 2025 and plans to debut its first electric car, the 600hp Taycan, this year. By 2025, even Bentley, a brand famed for its uncompromising gas-guzzling luxury, will offer hybrid or electric versions of all its models.

“Companies are becoming more sustainable,” says Diana Verde Nieto, CEO and co-founder of Positive Luxury, the company behind the Butterfly Mark that is awarded to sustainable brands. “They can’t afford not to. The things that people buy are not just things anymore; they are part of a more complex corporate story. Climate change is a reality.”

Building a better future
To maximise their drive towards a greener future, automotive makers are not only making pioneering new products, but also radically rethinking the way they produce them. 

Take that new Bentley. The walnut veneer of the dashboard is crafted from a tree that has fallen naturally – and even then, a new one is planted in its place. More than 30,000 solar panels provide up to 40 per cent of its factory energy and the rest is from certified green sources.

“To deliver a fully carbon-neutral value chain, the most radical changes are needed in efficiency, renewables and circularity,” says Viktorija Stojcheva, senior consultant, sustainability solutions at Navigant. “This goal requires transformations across the value chain, including raw-materials sourcing, the manufacturing process, charging, use phase and recycling.”

A good example of this corporate transformation, which demands significant investment and restructuring, is under way at Volkswagen, where the new ID electric car platform will play a pivotal role in the company’s drive to reduce its vehicle fleet emissions to zero by 2050.

In 2019-20 it is investing €870m in electric components; every step of the manufacturing process – including those of suppliers – is under the microscope. Only renewable energy will be used in its factories and an upgraded components division will be responsible for all aspects of energy storage – from cell production and mobile charging banks to battery recycling. It aims to reuse 97 per cent of all battery materials returned from the market by the end of the 2020s.

“This is a key step for the entire group,” explains Dr Stefan Sommer, member of the Volkswagen Group Board of Management responsible for components and procurement.

Here comes the sun?
Energy storage lies at the heart of the green automotive revolution, so it is no surprise that a huge amount of time and money is being spent making batteries cheaper – largely by achieving economies of scale – and more efficient.

For example, CATL, a huge Chinese battery producer that supplies BMW, Volkswagen, Nissan and Renault, is raising its lithium-ion battery capacity to 50GWh by 2020 – a remarkable tenfold increase. 

The search is also on for the next big thing in battery design, including the development of solid-state technology, and alternative sources of power. Many believe the solar-powered car is only a pipe dream, but a Dutch start-up called Lightyear has declared it is launching Lightyear One, a car that can drive for months without charging. “It’s a revolutionary step in electric mobility,” claims Lex Hoefsloot, the company’s CEO.

James Bond driving a powerful electric Aston Martin is one thing, but the mass-market solar-powered car is still very much a fantasy. The automotive industry may be changing rapidly but, in its commitment to be more sustainable, it is blending creative thinking with a hard-bitten commercial realism.

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