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Hexagon study finds automakers prioritizing EV range and cost over carbon footprint

Independent research into electric vehicle (EV) development has found that most automotive companies are more focused on improving electric car range and reducing costs than improving the vehicles’ carbon footprint, despite mounting scrutiny of their hidden environmental impacts. The research has been published by the Manufacturing Intelligence division of global technology company Hexagon, whose technology touches 95% of all cars produced every year.

While EVs eliminate tailpipe emissions, they also produce a long tail-pipe of increased demand for fossil-fuel generated electricity, and reliance on energy-intensive materials and processes to construct vehicles and single-use batteries. A recent report by Volvo backs that up, announcing that EVs are far “dirtier” out of the factory gate, as the resource extraction for an electric drive train is so carbon-intensive, with EVs needing to clock up nearly twice as many miles compared to gasoline cars to ‘break even’.

Despite this mounting scrutiny, only 38% of carmakers are currently increasing their investment in more sustainable design of EVs, which appears to be a much lower priority than the attributes that will appeal to consumers on the forecourt. The research also found:

  • 84% are increasing investment in improving EV range

  • 60% are increasing investment in design that will enable lower production and retail costs

  • 58% are increasing investment in improving EV performance


These factors all improve the environmental footprint of an EV compared to a gasoline car, but the research found that companies are hitting other roadblocks in achieving the vehicles’ full green promise. When asked about their challenges in achieving greener EVs, the majority of carmakers (56%) identify a lack of alternatives to rare-earth metals for batteries as the major obstacle. Half (49%) are also concerned about the lack of recyclable battery materials, closely followed by the lack of recycling programmes and infrastructure (47%).


Our research reflects a welcome recognition by the auto industry that sustainability involves more than merely reducing road emissions, revealing an understanding of the whole-lifecycle manufacturing and material impact of vehicles. However, it also shows that despite this knowledge, car makers are feeling more pressure to compete for consumer sales than to ensure EVs are able to fulfil their core purpose of reducing the environmental impact of road transport.

The industry is having to move at unprecedented speed to innovate in pursuit of improvements in range, production costs and sustainability, within an increasingly competitive environment and while facing significant supply chain challenges. To fulfil the promise of a net zero automotive industry sooner while balancing consumer demands, intelligent data-driven manufacturing approaches must be embraced that support the development of sustainable solutions for every part, as well as creating recyclable cars. Only by designing for a circular economy—from factory, to consumer and beyond—can we reduce demand for energy and materials in the coming years.

—Ignazio Dentici, VP Global eMobility Industry for Hexagon’s Manufacturing Intelligence division

Surveyed adopters of smarter product development and manufacturing approaches report cutting time to market by 25%, with the methods producing lighter, more recyclable materials, and more autonomous manufacturing to help resolve the tension between consumer demand and impacts on the planet, progressively reducing costs and development timelines for greener designs. Furthermore, synchronizing design, testing and engineering is shown to reduce physical testing and failed products, providing engineers with the opportunity to address efficiency and sustainability at drawing board stage.

Supply chain vulnerabilities, as exemplified by the ongoing chip shortages, are identified as one of the biggest obstacles to expanding the production of electric vehicles, with 73% citing challenges sourcing the required volumes of materials. The research highlights different ways these are being addressed by smart manufacturing proponents, including vertical integration of production and open digital ecosystems that enable end-to-end visibility and control over materials across their lifecycle.

The report, Recharging the Automotive Market, is produced by Hexagon and draws from on original research conducted with Wards Intelligence and Informa Tech Automotive Group (ITAG), with a comprehensive survey of 416 eMobility design and manufacturing decision-makers across the global automotive supply chain.



Carmakers claim that (quote) "they are feeling more pressure to compete for consumer sales than to ensure EVs are able to fulfil their core purpose of reducing the environmental impact of road transport."
The problem is that most non-Chinese carmakers clearly only want to focus on competing to appeal to an affluent or wealthy, pampered, "light-green" demographic who basically want ever more lush, ultra-high-spec, long-range "Lounges-cum-iPhones-on-Wheels". Car manufacturers are likewise wilfully ignoring survey after survey that repeatedly confirm the fact that most people want a wide choice of far less expensive, simpler electric cars - even at the expense of long range - as has long been available to Chinese consumers - EVs like the Hozon NETA V, BYD Dolphin, Geely Maple 30x, Changan E-Star, Leap Motors T03, GM-Wuling Hongguang mini EV, Chery QQ Ice Cream. All of the above cost (well) below $16,000, none have a range above circa 200 miles(EPA equivalent) - but they can all be fast-charged to 80% in approximately 30-60 minutes. You only have to read the overwhelmingly positive viewer comments below Youtube reviews of EVs like these to understand that Western consumers are understandably increasingly frustrated that these low-cost, keep-it-simple (ergo greener) EVs are still not being exported and sold globally and that "Western" or non-Chinese carmakers are still only really interested in satisfying the demands of a pampered, "light green", affluent or wealthy demographic for whom less is definitely not more and "keeping it simple" is anathema.
Paul G (Editor: EVUK...since 1999)


These are the priorities of large, profit driven companies, such as VW and Toyota. They're not start-ups with enormous failure rates, and which live on venture capital. Massive investments support massive profits, not sustainability. The rate of transport decarbonization is controlled by profitability and little else, that being ethical investment funds and government subsidy. When recycling is highly profitable, recycling happens. Government fiat can force investment, but this is more commonly done in the form of winks and nudges.
Cheap consumer vehicles cannot produce the profits the big players demand, especially with unprecedented but oh so adventageous "shortages."


Hexagon needs to work on their messaging.
They state:” the majority of carmakers (56%) identify a lack of alternatives to rare-earth metals for batteries as the major obstacle”. Lithium ion batteries do not have “rare-earth metals”, actually Hybrid cars NiMH batteries do have “rare earth metals” in the negative electrode, e.g. lanthanum, cerium, neodymium, praseodymium.
Lithium ion batteries DO have “difficult to source” materials, e.g. Lithium, Nickel, and Cobalt. Chine carmakers and Tesla have reduced significantly the most difficult to source material, i.e.Cobalt, by using LFP batteries.
Automakers are working on recycling batteries, improving battery production processes, and looking into alternate supply sources to reduce supply chain vulnerabilities. However, this will take some time.


@ Gryf:
The application of neodymium is not restricted to hybrids or NIMH batteries. With the exception of induction motors, all PM-motors have neodymium employed in their magnets.


The quote is: “rare-earth metals for batteries”. Rare earth metals are widely used in electronics,e.g. cell phones, head phones, etc Also, Rare Earth metals are not rare, actually more abundant than many other metals. However, they are expensive to produce and China has a near monopoly on the current sources.

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