Development strategies for product and car parts improve production in the sector while environmental certificates and quality control safeguard nature

Perhaps the car is the ultimate status symbol when it comes to representing modernity. Urban streets, bridges and tunnels have been designed to suit the circulation of this type of vehicle, which has become more accessible as time passes and technology advances, and whose image is consolidated as a representation of freedom and autonomy.

The United States emerged as an important automobile market in the early 1900s, when Ford introduced the automobile assembly line for mass production of its Model T. To date, Ford Motor Company is still among the main passenger automobile manufacturers in the world.

Regarding sales of light vehicles in the United States, General Motors was the most prominent manufacturer in 2017, followed by Toyota, Ford, Nissan, Honda, and Chrysler, owned by Fiat.

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Sustainability in the automobile world

Fiat has been one of the first automakers to adopt structured sustainability practices. Worldwide, the company plants transfer 100% of generated waste to recycling and reuse, no longer relaying them to landfills. This goal was achieved in 2011 as a result of project Zero Waste, part of the company’s environmental policy, focused on impact prevention and the rational use of natural resources.

At Fiat, design studies and other specialties seek to broaden rates of reuse with innovative solutions. One of them is the implementation of a styrofoam recycling system, which reduces material volume by 50 times. In the Ecological Island, a separate space in the company’s yard, styrofoam is processed and turned into raw material for the production of plastic materials, such as pens and CD cases.

In Brazil, some materials, such as buckles, hubcaps and seat belt scraps are taken to Cooperárvore, a social cooperative that is part of Árvore da Vida (Tree of Life) – Jardim Teresópolis program, which reconditions the material for new uses, developing products from material received from the auto industry, among other sources.

Indústria automotiva. Crédito: PxHere

One of Fiat’s key strategies is named World Class Manufacturing (WCM), a methodology to improve production efficiency and eliminate losses and waste. At the pressing unit, for example, steel slate scraps are reused to produce small coachbuilder parts, such as a fuel tank cap.

Since 1998, thanks to WCM, over 38 thousand tons of steel have been reintroduced to the production process, an amount equivalent to 151 thousand coachbuilders for Fiat Mobi, a subcompact model from the company.

At the body shop, the replacement of fluorescent lamps with an adjustable LED system, along with proximity sensor and luminosity sensor, reduced by 47% the consumption of electrical energy to light up the plants’ warehouses.

Sector Overview

In 2018, the world automobile industry expects to sell 81,5 million units – 3% more than 2017 and twice the sum of all cars sold between 1990 and 1999, according to data from Statista, a statistics portal. Few are the years in which automobile sales do not increase expressively.

But, with such growth, sound and air pollution invariably rise. The burning of fossil fuels, such as gasoline and diesel, has led to a rise of 0.6 degrees Celsius, or 1 degree Fahrenheit, in global temperatures since pre-industrial era and warming is to keep growing within the next decades.

Car exhaust releases a broad range of gases and solid matter, resulting in climate changes, acid rain, jeopardizing the environment and human health. Motor noise and fuel leakage also cause pollution.

But, how is it possible to keep enjoying the amazing benefits of a private car and circumvent harm to human health and nature that the motors of such cars may cause?

“We want zero CO2 by 2050. This is our greatest challenge,” explains Saori Nishikawa, Toyota Brazil’s environment manager. “We work with three pillars. The first is the product itself. The second is the emission of CO2 during the product lifespan. And the third during the production process, at the plants.” Toyota also develops projects to optimize the use of water in the entire chain, either via consumption reduction, reuse or recycling.

Fusca em meio à natureza. Crédito: Tom Arrowsmith/Unsplash

What else may the industry do for sustainability?

Big companies also develop socio-environmental education projects, as in the case of The Nissan Institute, which focus on children and vocational education. “Our actions are focused on the pillars of sustainability, environment and governance. For Nissan, by improving governance, we contribute to the economic development of the society where we operate,” states Rosane Santos, social responsibility manager.

Rosane clarifies that Institute Nissan has also revisited its pillars and, from 2019, it will operate more directly in mobility, environment and vocational courses, with technology, innovation and education being the cross-pillars. “We are committed to contributing with society, either through sponsored projects or through our own projects, in the transfer of knowledge and improvement of initiatives that promote transformation and social impact on these fronts.”

Toyota Foundation also invests in the Costa dos Corais Environmental Protection Area, in the state of Pernambuco. In the project Águas da Mantiqueira, the company assesses the Atlantic Forest remainder, distributed across 10 drainage basins in Santo Antônio do Pinhal (SP), essential to the maintenance of environmental services – specially water resources – and their influence on the sustainability of rural and urban areas by means of studies in biodiversity, agriculture, education, solid waste, tourism, among others.

Saori says that the Toyota Environmental Challenge – 2050, announced by the company in 2015, addresses six challenges that cover the company priorities, such as developing new products and technologies, and the automaker’s role as the facilitator for people and communities to improve their economic context and their surrounding natural environment. “We don’t want radicalism. We know that development is important and we want it to bring benefits to the country and the planet – and we want it to happen sustainably, respecting the environment.”

Jeep em meio à natureza. Crédito: Philippe Toupet/Unsplash

Certificates that protect the entire chain

Fiat was one of the first automobile manufacturers in Brazil to get the ISO 50001, for energy management, back in 2013. The energy saved by the plant in Betim, state of Minas Gerais, would be enough to supply 610 households/month. With that reduction, nine thousand tons of CO2 have been deterred from being released. The generation of renewable energy with the installation of solar panels on warehouses and light poles with photovoltaic panels also makes a difference. Energy generated by those technologies is equivalent to the consumption of 600 households/month.

Fiat, Nissan, and Toyota also comply with certificate ISO 14001, which sets out the requirements for an Environmental Management System and helps to strengthen qualities so that the company may develop a nature protection structure and prompt response in case of changes in environmental conditions.

“Today, all Toyota plants are certified, not only ours. Our sale environmental guide requires suppliers to also have certificate within criteria,” says Saori. “We abide by ISO 14001, not only in direct operation, but also in the entire chain.”

To Rosane, it is possible to ensure the strict practice of internal processes controlled by the company, both in production and administration, employing best practices of waste disposal. “When we look at raw material, despite performing compliance validation to meet environment protection basic rules as a whole, we understand that there is room for improvement.”

Technology and Innovation for Autonomy

In August 2018, Toyota announced that it would invest US$ 500 million in partnership with Uber for the development and production of autonomous cars. The companies want to launch the product together and expect to explore the potential market for autonomous shared-use light vehicles.

The model selected for this particular fleet will be based on the Japanese automaker model Sienna Minivan, and tests are scheduled for 2021. In addition to looking at sustainability, the idea is that Toyota new cars may serve the elderly and disabled population with quality.

Toyota has also announced plans to build a huge 60-acre industrial facility in Michigan (USA), which will serve for driving tests in scenarios that are too risky to be conducted on public roads. The Japanese company will also invest US$ 2.8 billion in a new software company, whose assignment is to provide artificial intelligence systems for autonomous vehicles.

Content published in February 21, 2019

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