Car enthusiasts don’t get behind modern BMW for many good reasons, but this is a statement we can genuinely agree on. The marque’s head of sustainability, Monika Dernai, made several legitimately great points on the idea of “recycling” cars.
In a speech held at London, she elaborated on the idea of refurbishing personal cars with aftermarket upgrades, which would effectively reduce the overall environmental impact of making new cars. “We really need to think about prolonging the life of cars; not having a used car market where you sell cars to each other, but maybe take a car and extend its lifespan. The idea could be that you could freshen up the interior. We need new skill sets in the aftermarket and to design cars so that the seat can be removed and a fresh seat can be moved in; then it’s a used car that looks like a new car,” she continued.
The practice of replacing seats is still common in modifications; some throw out older seats for lighter bucket seats with weight reduction in mind, while others may have done so to replace seats that are too damaged/stained to be cleaned or kept in the car, though that is more common in restorations. Upgrading vehicle seats to have more features that it didn’t have, like electric recline and adjustments, isn’t as common as the other two, but it’s still a business model that exists.
This does come into conflict with car manufacturers as you would expect, but it’s undeniably a more sustainable way of keeping the roads polluted with less new cars and old ones sitting for new owners. We can’t deny that the upgrading process would also leave some waste, but it’s arguably less polluting than the creation and delivery of a single new car to the dealership. These are parts that could be recycled or reused in other vehicles; essentially continuing the cycle. Even if they are unwanted, several materials, like leather seats can be recycled.
Dernai also touches on the subject of the market for personal vehicles. “Can we actually just move everybody to public transport? I think the answer is no. You’re worried about the public transport in the UK, but if you look at the US it’s even more desolate. So I think there’s still a market for cars out there.” And with the current situation of world governments forcing everyone out of ICEs and into brand new EVs, she’s right on with it; one overlooked aspect of this switch to electric vehicles is that there needs to be alternatives for those who do not have the money or capability to buy a brand new electric car. That alternative points to public transport, which, in most countries, are suboptimal.
Singaporeans have their MRTs, buses and all, and it’s sufficient to say that smaller Asian countries like them and Japan accommodate the public transport well. We can’t say the same for everywhere else, yet the government expects us to either purchase anything from the dealership, take the bus, or cycle. What they fail to consider is how every individual lives differently, and personal cars are a go-to solution for all. Second-hand markets provide cheaper cars that are often much better equipped than newer ones of the same price.
Technology grows evermore in the automotive industry and will leave past models to be outdated, but what Monika says solves a bit of that problem; all that is needed is upgrades that mostly can be done; the older the model is, the better. Aftermarket options are varied as can be, and one popular example that remains relevant in today’s situation is with infotainment systems; the market for it still exists, as they allow older cars to have their old headunits traded with ones that carry (essentially) most of the features that newer cars offer for more affordable prices.
Buying new cars will leave older ones to those who cannot afford them or prefer not to, but we’ve gone past the point where some of these cars will sit without owners while new cars are still in demand; worsening the amount of wastage from the process of building and rendering cars outdated. Even if the newer ones pollute less, their production process does not eliminate their overall environmental impact before hitting the streets. Amidst the rush of electrification, several folks have converted ICE models to run on electric power, so there’s your answer on powertrain problems, though it is costly and will take time. ICE cannot be denied their existence, unless we go headstrong into unused cars and more potential issues of not reusing what we have to its end of use.
Modernizing older cars is a practice that is much more optimized for the long run, though this only depends on consumers to drive out the demand for newer cars and keep their older ones. Dernai has the right idea, it’s just that, with all of the enforcements of electrification and the general mindset, it’s going to take a whole lot more than just convincing the government to take the better route.