White sports car sitting outside on a green lawn with trees in the background

Sustainability is no longer a niche effort. Today, it’s a global initiative that’s demanded by society and practiced by businesses across all industries. Car companies, from newer additions like Tesla to old standards like General Motors, understand this and are doing what it takes to get on board.

Car Companies and the Goal of Sustainability

One reason why American car manufacturers are focusing on sustainability is to compete with foreign car manufacturers – and to improve where those have failed. Additionally, a big portion of jobs in the U.S. auto industry relies on sustainable products. According to a study by the BlueGreen Alliance and the Natural Resources Defense Council, "Building clean vehicle technology directly supports 288,000 manufacturing and engineering jobs in the United States.”

That’s not to say that creating sustainable vehicles and auto products isn’t also for environmental reasons. Environmentally-conscious autos and auto products have numerous features and benefits:

  • Lighter-weight materials
  • Use of recyclable materials
  • More reliable and eco-friendly parts
  • Fuel alternatives for reduced fossil fuel intakes
  • Lower emissions
  • Reduced engine power
  • Efficient work processes in factories

Manufacturers Making a Difference

For a lot of consumers, Elon Musk is the name that springs to mind when they think of sustainability in the auto industry. Musk is the CEO of Tesla, an automotive company founded in 2003 that’s dedicated to eco-friendly vehicles and clean energy. Many other car manufacturers are creating electric cars as well, and these electric vehicles have fewer carbon emissions when compared to vehicles with gasoline engines.

New electric cars, like the 2017 Chevy Bolt EV, go hand-in-hand with driverless technology because the less-complex engines are easier to automate. Driverless cars, also called autonomous vehicles (AV), will change the way people travel. Manufacturers believe that these cars will improve safety, make traffic flow more efficient and create easier travel overall. Lyft has even announced their plans to make their self-driving cars 100 percent powered by renewable energy.

Eco-efficient tires are also becoming the norm. These tires require less energy to stay in motion and therefore increase fuel economy. Moreover, some eco-efficient tires can also sense when tire pressure is low, which also affects mileage. In an article from Automotive News, Kathy Graham, spokeswoman for BorgWarner — a company that creates vehicle technologies — says, “Since the recession, customers are asking for better fuel efficiency and lower emissions. The future is in being sustainable." Michelin’s eco-efficient tires are biodegradable and reusable, too, and they have a concept tire that can be 3D printed using organic materials.

Not everyone is on board. President Trump has made budget cuts that affect the environment in many ways and that have direct effects on the auto industry. Eco-conscious companies are forging ahead, though. BorgWarner has come out with numerous green technologies, including a cam timing system that was first seen in the 2011 Subaru Forester and boasted extremely low emissions.

Automakers have also spent billions of dollars to upgrade auto plants, in part to improve fuel economy. For example, Ford updated their truck factory in Louisville, Kentucky, so it could build it’s F-150 pickup trucks with aluminum bodies. Aluminum is lightweight, recyclable, and easy to manipulate, and it also reduces fuel intake.

Eco-Friendly Cars and Climate Change

The question of whether or not green autos will directly impact climate change is up in the air. In the article from Automotive News referenced above, Tony Montana, spokesman for United Steelworkers, "In 10 short years, enforceable fuel-efficiency standards have increased the fuel efficiency of the average vehicle on the street today by 25 percent. Is that going to stop global climate change? Probably not.”  However, he goes on to clarify that this shift means that American auto manufacturers and related suppliers will now think in more eco-conscious terms. “But what it did do was act as a catalyst for American auto manufacturers and the companies that supply them to dig deeper, think outside the box, and find ways to make cars and trucks more fuel-efficient," Montana says.

The idea here is that there’s an overarching and new commitment to sustainability, and while that may not have a direct impact on climate change, it will work toward saving the environment. Since climate change is such a huge part of sustainability, it’s all part of the same broad goal.

Others are more hopeful that the auto industry could have a major impact on climate change, though. According to a study by NASA, vehicles that release greenhouse gases and pollutants are the contributors to global warming. Knowing this, eco-friendly and sustainable changes to vehicles could have a significant impact on the state of global warming going forward.

One thing that’s certain: the world we create now is the one our children will live in later. While each individual can do their part to fight global warming, it’s going to take big changes and innovations from giant industries to make long-lasting impacts. In the future, the auto industry will continue to be enormous, which is why its influence today is so important. Auto manufacturers and the companies that support them must continue to focus on eco-conscious products and methods.