Automotive Industry Focuses on the Entire Value Chain
Author: Matthias Gaul
In addition to the actual manufacturing process, manufacturers and suppliers are increasingly focusing their sustainability efforts on supply chains.
It’s a number that always makes an impression: As stated by Kevin Quinn, Director of Additive Design & Manufacturing at General Motors, a conventional vehicle consists of an average of around 30,000 parts from suppliers all around the world. They use raw materials such as aluminum, steel, iron ore, rubber, glass, and various plastics. Faced with the pollutant emissions associated with the production of these raw materials and the increasingly stringent environmental requirements, manufacturers are massively stepping up their efforts to reduce their carbon footprint.
For example, Polestar, a joint venture between car manufacturers Volvo and Volvo’s Chinese parent Geely, announced collaborations with global blue chip suppliers in March 2022 as part of the “Polestar 0” project to accelerate the development of a climate-neutral car. Swedish supplier SSAB, for example, wants to contribute by producing fossil-free steel to replace conventional steel in vehicle components.
Norwegian company Hydro is focusing on the development of carbon-free aluminum, while German systems supplier ZF is working with Polestar to find out how its innovations in electric drives, for example, can eliminate carbon emissions and save resources. Swedish-American automotive supplier Autoliv, in turn, is focusing on zero-emission safety features such as airbags and seat belts. Meanwhile, Austria-based vehicle lighting systems and automotive electronics specialist ZKW is collaborating with Polestar on carbon-neutral electrical control systems and wiring.
Tracking supply chains worldwide
In light of the e-mobility strategy being pursued by manufacturers, battery materials such as cobalt, lithium, nickel, and graphite in particular are increasingly coming into focus. In order to establish stricter standards with regard to the environmentally and socially responsible extraction of raw materials, the Volkswagen Group also joined the “Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA)” as recently as March 2022. IRMA is an alliance of non-governmental organizations, trade unions, affected local communities, investors, mine operators, and raw material customers. Other IRMA members from the automotive sector include BMW, Daimler, Ford, General Motors, and supplier Schaeffler.
The founding of the Responsible Supply Chain Initiative (RSCI) association in October 2021 by the German Association of the Automotive Industry together with 14 manufacturers, suppliers, and other associations – including Audi, BMW, Bosch, Daimler, MAN, Porsche, Schaeffler, and the Volkswagen Group, as well as the European supplier association CLEPA and the Network for Corporate Responsibility – fits right in. Their focus is to review and further develop the sustainability of companies in their supply chains by means of on-site assessments and corresponding tracking. The goal is to achieve a high level of transparency, particularly in regard to compliance with occupational safety and environmental protection standards. Network Catena X, founded by dozens of manufacturers and suppliers in 2021, is also dedicated to ensuring greater transparency in supply chains. One of the projects under development is a data platform that can be used to track the origin of components in order to filter out possible breaches of regulations.
Holistic consulting approach by DEKRA
Even these few examples show that the topic of sustainability in the automotive industry is no longer just about individual products, but rather the entire value chain. “It’s crucial for companies to be clear about what goals they want to achieve and how they can approach them systematically,” says Sebastian Bartels, Head of the newly established Corporate Focus Area Sustainability Services at DEKRA. Otherwise, this could result in ill-conceived measures that only cost a lot of money but ultimately don’t achieve much.
“We must think things through consistently and holistically from start to finish – from development to raw materials, from logistics to production, from operational phase to the end of a product’s life,” adds Christina Bocher, Business Line Manager Sustainability in the DEKRA Service Division Consulting. Sustainability efforts along the supply chain must fit together and their contribution must be measurable.
The expert organization supports companies worldwide in each individual phase with a comprehensive portfolio of advice – in matters of circular economy, as well as environmental and social standards and energy efficiency, or even verification of their carbon footprint, including derivation of optimization measures.