Is Environmental Improvement in Automotive Component Design Highly Constrained?
This article investigates the influence of environmental, cost, and performance requirements on the design and management of automotive components through a case study involving instrument panels. To address the question of whether the environmental improvement of an instrument panel (IP) is highly constrained, a life cycle inventory analysis is used to characterize the major environmental burdens associated with a generic IP defined from an average of three midsized vehicle models. A life cycle cost analysis is also conducted to understand the market forces operating in the domains of the original equipment manufacturer, consumer, and end-of-life (EOL) vehicle managers. This study indicates that the existing set of environmental requirements, in conjunction with current cost drivers and the large set of manufacturing and use phase functional performance requirements, highly constrain opportunities for environmental improvement. Specific improvement strategies - lightweighting, elimination of the painting operation, and reduction in material complexity - are examined in the context of existing system requirements. The near-term forecast for improvements is not optimistic. Innovation will continue in a slow and piecemeal fashion until requirements affecting the total vehicle system are significantly changed.