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 PlantGM'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 breakdownPhoto 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 PlantPhoto 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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The Wildcat is a new electric concept from Buick.

Buick

Buick, the automaker whose lineup consists entirely of middle-of-the-road SUVs, has just come out with something unexpected. Today, the storied American automaker announced a new EV concept that revives a historic name from its catalog. The Wildcat was introduced in the early 1950s and has just returned on a sharp, futuristic EV.

Buick Wildcat ConceptThe car will help Buick test and validate new tech like artificial intelligence. Buick

The concept’s interior features a classic 2+2 seating configuration, with two front and two rear seats. An extended center console stretches through both rows of seating, and the cockpit-style seats feature cantilevered headrests. Buick says it focused heavily on color and the level of comfort it conveys. Green accents highlight many parts of the interior, and orange contrasts can be found throughout, including on the seatbelts.

The Wildcat features a large curved display that integrates the gauge cluster and infotainment unit into one panel. The air vents and all physical controls are hidden in an interesting and elaborate dash, and Buick says the car is designed to be a platform for future technologies like artificial intelligence, biometrics, and aromatherapy.

Buick Wildcat ConceptThe Wildcat's interior is futuristic and almost completely devoid of buttons.Buick

Buick will become an all-electric brand in the future, and though the Wildcat is just a concept, we’re likely to see many of its features make their way into production models. We don’t have any details on whether or not a version of the car will make it into production, though if it does, it’s unlikely to wear the Wildcat name, as of the automaker’s other models feature sedate names.

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The ZR2 is a beefy off-road pickup.

Chevrolet

Chevrolet has added a beefed-up version of its half-ton pickup to the 2022 Silverado lineup that has more capability and comfort for towing and hauling loads, traveling to hard jobs over a variety of road surfaces and a better 4WD game for backcountry travel. I recently joined the Bow-Tie brand for a 200-mile-long evaluation of the first-ever Chevy ZR2. Our day-long test drive took us from the popular desert playground of Palm Springs, located in a verdant valley surrounded by 5,000 to 10,000-foot mountains, to swaths of nearby desert. There, we traveled along a collection of dirt trails in Joshua Tree National Forest and on a 4WD mining trail to abandoned gold mines, with rugged topography that allowed us to try out the truck’s updated hardware that has been engineered to bring an ease of operation and safety for motoring over tough and technical terrain.

2022 Chevrolet Silverado ZR2The ZR2 gets several exclusive touches that set it apart from a standard Silverado.Chevrolet

Chevy has made some significant changes to the 2022 Silverado lineup from outside to in and has added Super Cruise, a hands-free drive mode that we were able to try out on local highways in the Palm Springs environs, as we also checked out different trim levels and new technologies. Updates of note are new interior styling, freshened materials and premium trims; a new dashboard and digital displays with a 12.3-inch fully digital gauge cluster and a 13.4-inch touchscreen infotainment system (with Google’s Maps, Assistant and Play Store as well as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay); and an electronic shifter mounted to the center console. However, our primary task was to focus on the all-new ZR2 that has been set up with a 420-hp 6.2-liter V-8 engine, rides on 33-inch Goodyear Wrangler Territory tires, boasts a new suspension with Multimatic spool-valve dampers, and has electronic-locking front and rear differentials. Elements of the ZR2 and this moniker have been used previously on a special edition of Chevy’s compact truck.

In addition to its functional features, the new Silverado ZR2 stands apart from its stablemates by a collection of unique design cues, including a distinctive front end with a new black hood insert; a large-sized grille with a hollowed-out ‘flow-tie’ emblem for increased air flow and integrated lighting; wheel moldings, ZR2 badges, unique 18-inch wheels and an exclusive Jet Black/Graystone leather-trimmed interior matched with an appealing dark trim. Overall, the truck looks slightly aggressive and fit. The 2022 Chevrolet Silverado ZR2 competes with other full-sized desert-running and off-road trucks from Ford and Ram. It’s only offered with a crew-cab body style and either the short- or standard-length cargo boxes with an optional Multi-Flex Tailgate. On sale now, it starts at $67,600 (plus $1,695 destination and delivery)

Chevy’s flagship off-road pickup can tow 8,900 pounds with a conventional trailer hitch and haul up to 1,440 pounds of payload, with more comfortable ride as a result of the spool-valved dampers and specially-tuned springs that bring increased wheel travel when compared to the Trail Boss trim, for instance. This also translates to improved control and greater safety on the road, which we found impressive during our highway driving. The truck has a number of new standard safety features, as well.

2022 Chevrolet Silverado ZR2The off-road can tow up to 8,900 pounds and haul up to 1,440 pounds.Chevrolet

Added to Chevy’s in-house testing of the truck in everyday driving and extremes, we learned that the new pickup has been put to the test over the past three years by Chad Hall, who is a highly-respected off-roader and noted desert racer. The production truck and Hall’s prototype race truck share most of the major chassis and drivetrain components, including the robust ladder-type frame; the 420-horsepower V-8 and 10-speed automatic transmission; transfer case; front and rear differentials; plus the front and transfer case skid plates, says Chevy. (See below for more info on Hall’s racing success in this truck.)

We sampled a number of the truck’s technologies during our day-long drive, checking the boxes for both high-speed desert-running and slow-speed rock crawling. Overall, there was good power on tap with plenty of torque to move the half-ton’s 5,800-pound mass, smooth shifts from the 10-speed transmission, good brakes to slow our momentum when needed, and a comfortable ride- even over rugged roads and washboard.

I was excited to experience the ZR2’s talents on some isolated backcountry roads including the Old Dale and Black Eagle Mine Roads 4WD trail, where posted signage warned “Proceed at your own risk: Deep sand and rocks-- stranded drivers have died from heat exposure on park roads.” Truth is, this is just the kind of picturesque and formidable place that 4WD enthusiasts love to explore with a truck that can take you there—and bring you back safely.

2022 Chevrolet Silverado ZR2Chev updated the Silverado's interior with better tech and upscale luxury features.Chevrolet

What makes the ZR2 with its rear leaf-spring set-up abona-fide off-roader? In front are tow hooks and a skid plate underneath the high-mounted steel front bumper, with a 31.8-degree approach angle. Other numbers of note are the: 23.4 breakover angle; 23.3 departure angle; 11.2 inches of ground clearance; with 9.84 inches of suspension travel in front and 10.62 inches in the rear. Its width is 81.2 inches, which helps compared to some of its competitors, as it is more “parkable” in many garages and we found it maneuvered well when navigating through narrow sections of rock. Engineers have also repositioned the dual exhaust for added protection.

One of the truck’s top cool new features is the selectable Terrain Mode that allows for one-pedal driving; this cruise-control-like technology is particularly useful for motoring over rocks and up and down steep slopes. To engage, we locked the ZR2 into 4WD Low, set first gear and let the engineering do the driving, using the throttle to increase speed and the brake to decrease speed, when needed. A forward-facing camera provides visibility to the front and sides, as well as to the back which is another great feature for navigating technical terrain.

*Fuel economy estimates sit at 14 mpg in the city, 17 on the highway and 15 combined. the 24-gallon ZR2’s 360-mile range.

**FAST FACT: Chad Hall Racing also helped test the Chevy Colorado ZR2 off-road technologies in competition — and is still going strong with them. The Colorado ZR2 has been racing since 2017 in the Best in The Desert series and is the only truck in its class to have finished every race entered. It has accumulated more than 22,500 miles of racing experience.

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