With the North American auto show circuit underway, car enthusiasts are looking at a myriad of vehicle features. These include appearance, price tag, gas mileage, technology features and safety ratings. However, a consideration raising eyebrows among the environmentally conscious is a vehicle’s life cycle carbon footprint.
By Brad Davey, chief marketing officer, NAFTA and global automotive at ArcelorMittal
Government regulations have become more stringent in recent years. The 2025 vehicle fleet is required to improve fuel economy and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to about 50 mpg. Therefore, automakers have made a number of modifications to vehicles. One is incorporating materials to reduce weight, thereby reducing fuel needs and ultimately GHG emissions. These materials could include advanced high-strength steels (AHSS), aluminum or carbon fiber, among others. Each material contributes to vehicle lightweighting and improves fuel economy. However, each does so at a different cost to the manufacturer – and to the environment.
If we want to know how “green” a vehicle really is, we have to measure emissions over its entire life cycle. This is done using a process called Life Cycle Analysis, or LCA. LCA looks at total emissions generated during the three stages of a vehicle’s life – production, drive phase and disposal.
If we want to know how “green” a vehicle really is, we have to measure emissions over its entire life cycle.
Right now, regulations only consider tailpipe emissions generated during the drive phase of a vehicle. However, the production phase of a vehicle comprises nearly 20 percent of total GHG emissions for internal combustion engines. That figure more than doubles to 47 percent for battery electric vehicles. If we don’t consider production phase emissions when evaluating environmental impact, we may choose lightweighting materials that emit more GHGs during their production than they save during the vehicle’s drive phase. This will result in a huge and irreversible environmental mistake.