Sustainability

Trash to treasure: GM vehicles are made from products originally destined for a landfill

General Motors is putting post-consumer waste to good use.

Photo by Getty Images/Koron

When you think of recycling, you inevitably think of the beer can or bottle that you've thrown in the bin in your garage, or the newspaper or magazine that sits in a stack waiting to be added to that bin on garbage day. There usually isn't much thought given to what happens to the materials once the garbage truck pulls away from your curbside.

Even though you might not be putting much thought into it, others are. This includes finding new and innovative approaches to using the recycled materials in products that are going to market.

General Motors Spring Hill Plant GM's Spring Hill plant will be run on solar power by 2022. Photo courtesy of General Motors

General Motors, who keeps sustainable practices in focus as part of an ongoing company-wide initiative, is utilizing recycled materials in their vehicles. This in and of itself isn't particularly innovative. Half a decade ago, the use or soy in the seats and tomato skins in the trunk was a common talking point for Ford during vehicle launches.

GM has taken steps over the years to reduce waste. At their Bowling Green assembly plant, the paint-shop system is using limestone to capture overspray, a practice that eliminates more than 400 tons per year of paint sludge waste. The company's design team donates scraps of leather, vinyl, and synthetic suede to the College for Creative Studies in Detroit so that they may be used by fashion students. Corvette's leather leftovers go to Pingree, a Detroit business that employs veterans with meaningful work, where workers hand craft the leather into custom Corvette-branded accessories.

The GM Global Design Center in Warren, Michigan has its design team collect and clean clay that is left over from creating models, using metal detecting wands to remove any metal pins. In just one hour, six team members can completely strip one midsize vehicle model of salvageable clay. This clay recycling saved Mother Earth some strain and GM's pocket book about $1 million over a three-year period.

General Motors recycled car breakdown Photo courtesy of General Motors

GM is part of the Materials Marketplace, an initiative of the United States Business Council for Sustainable Development, that works to identify ways to reuse or exchange undervalued materials through an online database and establish circular supply chains. This is designed to lengthen product life cycles and lower the environmental impact of many stages of the manufacturing and design process.

The automaker is also putting recycled materials into its vehicles. Post-consumer nylon fiber has been used for window support brackets resulting in 3 million pounds of plastic being recycled. Recycled PC/PBT plastic has been made into license plate brackets while PC/ABS plastic has been crafted into radio brackets resulting in 375,000 pounds of plastic diverted from landfills.

According to Beverage Marketing Corp., a single-serve PET bottle weighs approximately 9.25 grams down 52 percent from the early 2000s. GM has recycled 100 million water bottles and used them to make wheelhouse liners. Other uses of recycled materials include 200,000 pounds of plastic diverted from landfills to make cowl vent grills, 5,000 tires taken out of the refuse pile to be used to make ultra capacitor barrier shields.

General Motors Spring Hill Assembly Plant Photo courtesy of General Motors

GM continues to work on sustainability with its plants and suppliers. It has recently won awards for its initiatives and is set to hit another milestone in 2022 when the Spring Hill plant will switch over to solely solar power.

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Honda notified dealers of upcoming supply cuts.

Photo courtesy of American Honda Motor Co., Inc

Honda, like all major automakers today, is truly a global operation. Though it produces plenty of vehicles here in the United States, many of the components it relies on for manufacturing come from elsewhere in the world. That means Honda, like the other auto giants, needs its global supply chain operating smoothly in order to prevent disruption. Unfortunately for Honda dealers and potential customers, disruption is what's about to happen. The automaker recently sent a letter to its dealers, forecasting reduced vehicle supply in the coming weeks.


2021 Honda Ridgeline No. 19 - Honda Photo courtesy of American Honda Motor Co., Inc


The dealer letter, posted to the Civic XI forum and fan site, was dated August 25 and confirmed by a dealer upset with the development, according to Automotive News. In the letter, Honda cites the ongoing pandemic and microchip shortages as major factors impacting its production efforts. Total shipments to dealers could be cut by up to 40 percent, but not all models will be affected to the same degree.

The letter noted that supplies of the Pilot and Passport SUVs will hold steady, and shared that production of the Civic hatchback is on schedule. However, the situation is fluid and could change at any time, so there's a chance that timelines could speed up or slack off as necessary.


2022 Honda Pilot Some models will see more cuts than others.Photo courtesy of American Honda Motor Co., Inc


Honda is just the latest in a long line of automakers struggling to keep pace with demand in the face of several converging global crises. In an effort to keep vehicles rolling out of factories, General Motors has implemented selective feature cuts in some of its new vehicles, such as the removal of engine start/stop tech from some trucks and SUVs. Earlier this month, Ford Motor Company told Mustang Mach-E buyers to expect delays of at least six weeks as it grapples with the chip shortage, and will temporarily reduce production capacity at a few of its plants.

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Biden will target 50 percent of all vehicle sales for EVs by 2030.

Ford

In the last several months, we've seen automakers from all corners of the globe commit to some degree of electrification by the end of the decade and beyond. That includes the American Big Three: Ford Motor Company, General Motors, and Stellantis (Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, others). Today, President Joe Biden plans to throw his weight behind these efforts by signing an executive order that sets a goal of pushing the sales of zero-emissions vehicles to half of all vehicle sales in the U.S. by 2030.

Biden's target is not legally binding, but the industry is already jumping on board. In a joint statement, Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis confirmed that they aim to hit an EV sales volume of 40-50 percent annually. It's worth noting that the President's 50 percent goal and the automakers' sales targets also include plug-in hybrid vehicles, which still use a traditional gasoline engine.


Jeep PHEV The target also includes plug-in hybrid vehicles, which still use gas engines.Jeep


Auto unions and dealers are not opposed to the ambitious roadmaps laid out by the Big Three, but both have differing views on what is essential and how things will ultimately play out. While aware of the goals, the UAW is focused on wage growth and the preservation of jobs and benefits. It feels that an increase in EV production volume must happen here in the U.S. to include good-paying American union jobs.

Dealers, to a degree, are supportive of the goals but skeptical of their ultimate success. Some feel that electric vehicles do not present the earth-shattering shift in functionality and usability that other new products, such as smartphones, did in different industries. Regardless of concerns and skepticism, it appears that automakers are going all-in on the shift to electrification, so we're bound to see a wealth of new battery-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles in the next few years.


GM battery facility rendering Automakers are pledging billions to increase EV and PHEV production volume.GM

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