Climate change, the environment and a sustainable future matter now more than ever. Just see the effect Greta and other young voices are having. Around the globe we reportedly generate well over 2.1 billion tonnes of ‘municipal solid waste’ every year and only 16% of it is recycled. All business sectors can and should play a part in performing a handbrake turn on these sobering statistics, the automotive industry very much included at a time when nearly all manufacturers are introducing plug-in hybrid or full electrification to their line-ups.
Although it’s true that an individual motorist can make a modest difference by recycling or selling their old car’s parts on instead of having the whole shebang crushed in a scrapyard, the onus primarily falls on car manufacturers, backed by an array of resources and deeper pots of money.
This week at CarLeasingPeople we’re taking a look at which cars currently or imminently available to lease incorporate either a substantial proportion of recycled materials externally and/or internally, or boast a particularly remarkable component that has been manufactured or sourced sustainably.
BMW and the eco journey that started with the i3 electric car
Perennially one of the most popular brands in the car leasing market, historically primarily among company car drivers and more recently with personal contracts, BMW’s sustainability mission began with the i3 EV half a dozen years ago. Sources cite the BMW i3, which is predominantly made from carbon fibre, as being between 85% and 95% recyclable.
The i3’s seat and door yarn materials are partly made from 27 recycled plastic bottles, and the waterproof and lightly-treated eucalyptus wood trim is harvested from approved and fast-growing forests. Some of the car’s interior parts are made using plants called hemp and kenaf, the latter being a third lighter than plastic, resulting in improved efficiency, and the i3’s leather seat upholstery, tanned using olive oil depending on the colour, is sourced from cows reared close to the factory.
Plastic and cattle on BMW’s automotive agenda
Plastic is, of course, ultimately made from petroleum oil, of which poor old planet earth doesn’t have an infinite supply, so another Attenborough-pleasing step BMW Group has made since is to manufacture some of its nylon floor mats out of old fishing nets. The resulting yarn called Econyl has even been adopted by upmarket stocking-maker Kunert, so it’s clearly not an inferior product that contradicts BMW’s premium car producer image.
While the i3 is up to 95% recyclable, only a relatively modest 20% of its total sum parts is made from recycled materials to begin with, but scrap materials are increasingly being used on Munich production lines, and BMW is now researching turning kapok seeds and coffee grouts into wool, a handy characteristic of the latter being that they absorb odours.
In a move away from genuine leather made from cows, BMW is fitting more and more of its new models with Sensatec faux upholstery, and the next fascinating aim BMW’s Head of Sustainability in Design, Daniela Bohlinger, has in mind is identifying environmentally-friendly materials for the increasingly large touchscreens being incorporated.
What long list of materials is Ford already or soon recycling?
Cynics will always exist in the world, accusing large corporations of ‘greenwashing’ their perhaps questionable former practices by making grandiose eco announcements, but here at CarLeasingPeople we admire companies like Ford who are actively striving to reduce manufacturing waste and inefficiencies using all manner of materials, mindful that the process of putting a car together in a factory accounts for 10-to-20% of the vehicle’s lifetime CO2 emissions.
It brought a lump to our throats to learn that there’s a mass of plastic and other debris larger than the size of Mexico floating in the Pacific Ocean, as just one example of our impact on the planet. As a ray of sunlight, around 250 recycled plastic bottles contribute to the tough yet relatively lightweight underbody of each Ford produced, totting up to over 1.2 billion each year, while old dollar bills, euro and sterling notes are put towards some elements of their cars’ interiors. Up to 10,000 old currency notes are reportedly shredded every day, so Ford has identified a nifty way of harnessing this would-be waste.
Last year, had Ford not released the news in January, we would have been suspicious of it being an April fool’s joke that its engineers had developed a boot shelf out of honeycombed recycled paper that despite weighing just 3kg can support over 300kg, but it’s true. Designed for the all-new Ford EcoSport compact SUV, which we tested for a week recently, Ford’s team was inspired by beehives and the ability of honeycomb to provide remarkable strength despite weighing relatively little, the science of biomimetics already having applied its natural structure to jet planes, space rockets and supercars.
Ford makes use of McDonald’s discarded coffee bean skins
Ford’s latest eco announcement won’t benefit UK car leasing customers and buyers for the near future as it’s America-centric for now, but it’s still exciting to learn that McDonald’s waste coffee chaff, the dried skin of the bean that naturally comes off during roasting, will be converted into a lightweight and durable composite material used for Ford headlight housings.
The blue oval is also researching algae oil, coconuts, dandelions, corn and sugar cane to add to its already impressive list of reclaimed and eco-friendly materials that includes kenaf, castor, old tyres, soybeans (for car seat foam), hibiscus, tomato, rice, wheat, jute, spent walnut shells, discarded denim jeans, old airplane carpets, and even agave used in producing tequila by brands like Jose Cuervo.
How about Toyota, Hyundai and Renault?
Toyota similarly uses renewable sugar cane rather than petroleum as the origin for the glycol used in producing seat cushions for its cars, and the pillar coverings in certain Hyundai models are partly made from ground-up volcanic rock, which sounds pretty clever.
Renault revealed last month that it has joined forces with car seat supplier Adient Fabric and Filatures du Parc, a spinning mill, to develop a unique textile comprised fully of recycled materials including old seatbelts, clothing scraps, polyester fibres and, again, plastic bottles. The afiler project’s recycled carded yarn can already be seen and touched in the interior of the new Renault ZOE electric hatchback, with a resultant 60% reduction in associated CO2 production emissions compared to the previous generation.
Volvo aims high as its significantly-recycled XC60 T8 is revealed
Scandinavian nations have long been known for their environmental consciousness and April saw Volvo demonstrate to the public that using recycled materials in the production of luxury, premium and prestige cars doesn’t detract from inferior comfort, design, power, quality or safety, by showcasing a special version of its popular XC60 T8 plug-in hybrid electric SUV at the Plastics Recycling Show Europe. The delightful Swedish flag stitched into the front seats of today’s Volvo cars was replaced by a tag sporting a recycling symbol in the one-off XC60 Clean Seas as part of the firm swapping 170 virgin plastic parts for reused ones.
The two-tone seats contain plenty of shredded plastic bottles, the floor mats are made from 100% recycled Econyl derived from nylon fishing nets cleaned up from oceans, some luggage compartment trims are made from recycled shampoo and other bottles, and the bonnet’s sound absorber is made from recycled Volvo car seats, with the marque aiming for 25% of its cars’ plastic components to be environmentally-friendly by 2025, which is now less than half a dozen years away.
The Jaguar I-PACE electric SUV and aluminium recycling
Partly in the name of eking as long a zero-emissions electric range as possible from the car’s battery and partly with relative handling agility in mind, Jaguar has focussed on making its I-PACE EV remarkably lightweight at 2,208kg by using aluminium including alloys for 93% of its body and battery frame, alongside polypropylene and SMC composite materials for the boot and front mud-flaps.
This is all very well and good in the here and now, but thinking ahead to the time when one of its electric SUVs eventually comes to the end of its life, Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) has begun trialling a project called Reality through which preproduction I-PACE cars are being deconstructed in a controlled manner and their scrap graded using advanced sensors before being melted and reused in body panels and other parts, potentially even in future I-PACE and other models from the British brand’s stable.
The Jaguar XE saloon, which was proudly promoted as the first production car in the world to use a new aluminium alloy grade called RC5754, also uses copious amounts of aluminium, so it’s promising that the closed-loop Reality project, which is co-funded by Innovate UK, will see a reduction in the proportion of virgin aluminium that JRL uses. In fact, its production lines in the Midlands and other climes have already recycled around 300,000 tonnes of otherwise scrap aluminium.
Volkswagen hackathons explore clean raw materials for its electric ID. cars
With an exciting range of ID-badged EVs on the way starting with the ID.3, VW wants to see only clean raw materials sourced in a humanitarian way used in its electric cars, beginning with transparent and ideally shorter supply chains.
Cobalt is a vital raw material used in the production of many electric cars’ lithium-ion battery packs and Volkswagen’s Head of Procurement Strategy, Marco Philippi, recently highlighted the company’s ardent desire to stay away from artisanal mining that often involves child labour. VW instead exclusively uses cobalt suppliers with industrial methods, until the time comes when cobalt use can be reduced radically and perhaps even ceased.
Until Volkswagen’s ID range of electric cars become commonplace, it’s reassuring to know that perennially popular models like the VW Golf use cellulose, cotton, flax, hemp and kenaf for parts including door trims, armrests and insulation, plus secondary raw materials like recycled plastics for spare wheel compartment covers and wheel arch inserts, to reduce lifecycle CO2 emissions.
Cars suitable for vegans
Vegan lifestyles are become increasingly popular for health and wider environmental reasons, and popular car lease brands like BMW and Mercedes have introduced artificial leather-look seat upholstery called Sensatec and Artico respectively, while Land Rover has more recently added Premium Textile as an option to models like the Range Rover Velar, for example, which admittedly does contain wool reportedly from non-vegan-friendly farms but doesn’t contain any leather, instead based partly on polyester. JLRs new Dinamica Suedecloth material, meanwhile, might look and feel like real suede but 53% of its production relies on recycled plastic bottles.
Largely gone are the days when luxury car customers are keen to indulge in Nappa leather seats, sheepskin floor mats, walnut tables and real diamonds, with “a growing number of people who are concerned with the provenance of the textiles and materials in their vehicle” as Land Rover’s vegan creative director Massimo Frascella told Bloomberg - and it’s the same in fashion, hotels and other sectors where sustainability is fast becoming the focus.
Wool seats are apparently set to become increasingly popular in prestige cars, following Kvadrat's premium wool blend fabrics for the Range Rover Velar. The Queen has long preferred woollen upholstery in her Bentley cars. Long-haul airlines are upgrading their business and first class cabins with wool seats, and upmarket fashion brand Hackett of London has developed chequered cloth seats for Aston Martin's tailored 'Q' cars.
Nearly all cars with faux leather interiors still come with a leather-trimmed steering wheel, which vegan drivers need to be mindful of, but the Volkswagen Golf in entry-level S trim unusually comes without leather covering its steering wheel and gearstick. Elsewhere, the Ford Fiesta can be specifically ordered with non-leather materials.
It’s clear from the encouraging, fascinating and exciting strides being made by various manufacturers that environmentally-conscious car leasing customers and also vegans will be able to choose from an ever-expanding array of options incorporating recycled and non-leather materials, and CarLeasingPeople will be sure to keep readers posted of new developments on our blog. And of course, switching to leasing an electric car with zero tailpipe emissions is a great place to start.