Car Makers Plan For Life After Death
Friday March 25, 1994
REMEMBER the song with that great line ``meaner than a junkyard dog"? The junkyards are still there but the big ones have become recycling centres. For instance, Melbourne's East Keilor Wreckers, the largest in Australia, sits not in the middle of hectares of car carcases but amid humming computer screens tracking the parts in stock. It even has a permanent office in Japan buying and shipping to Australia quality recycled parts.
The motor industry is well down the recycling road, although it's still in its infancy in Australia. What was the former association of wrecking yards is now the Auto Parts Recyclers Association of Australia (APRAA) and its charter is based on - the three R's - Reduce waste and demand on landfills, Re-use resources with the use of little extra energy, and Recycle by converting scrap vehicles into useable parts.
Every new car and most commercial vehicles now sold here have their plastics coded for easy post-mortem sorting and processing, and the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) has developed a unified local system now adopted by all four car makers. The net result is that local cars are now being designed as much for dis- assembly as easy assembly.
About three-quarters of a passenger car's mass is metal, mostly steel.
About 1000 different plastic parts account for another 10 per cent or so. The rest is rubber, glass and composites. There can be profits in recycling, too. Catalytic converters are brought back to allow recovery of the fearsomely expensive precious metals like rhodium, palladium and platinum that take out the exhaust emissions.
The Germans have set the pace, with Europe's largest car maker, Volkswagen, claiming to be the world's first to establish a national recycling scheme for all its cars through a network of 100 German centres. The Audi 80 sold here and the VW Golf and Vento soon to make their debuts have all been nominated by VW to be bought back from their owners for recycling at the end of their useful lives.
VW was the first car maker to set up a pilot recycling plant, four years ago. Faced by the two million cars scrapped every year in environmentally active Germany, about 25 per cent of which (by weight) ended up as shredded waste on tips or in landfill, VW is working towards a ``closed loop". In this, the old car will go not to a scrap yard but to a licensed collection point (like a VW dealer); the registration would be surrendered, along with tax or other rebate and payment to the owner, and the car would then head for the processor.
One can see just how far VW has gone when you look at today's Caravelle (last Wednesday's road test) and identify the items made from recycled plastic: Turn signals, wheel trims, fuel tank, door mirror housings, seat trims, seat padding and cushions, window and pillar trim panels, air inlet grille, radiator grille, bumper bar and battery case. Mind you, unlike aluminium, plastics can be recycled only a few times.
VW's Audi subsidiary calls back all aluminium exhaust systems and cylinder heads. It insists that, except for critically stressed items, all aluminium components are made from recycled aluminium, which recycles easily and can be used over and over again. It has told its buyers that batteries must be made from no more than two types of plastic that can be easily separated and recycled.
Probably the newest example of designing for recycling is the just- launched Mercedes-Benz C-class. Just as it threw the car's prototypes into the wall in crash testing, so Benz took pre-final-build cars to a recycling plant to ensure they could be broken-down as easily as designed.
More than 15 per cent of all plastics in the C-class are recycled, and all plastic parts weighing more than 100 grams are numbered for identification and separation, with the petro-chemical content reduced from a typical 12 per cent to about eight per cent.
In dismantling the C-class, the wiring harness can be ripped out at one go, mainly for the copper it contains. The fluids all go into special containers, starters and alternators to the reconditioning shops. The instrument panel can be dismounted by removing just four screws. The stripper crew takes only two hours to reduce to a bare steel body shell a C220 that took about 25 hours to come down the assembly line. The shell is crushed into a cube and recycled.
Meet the diesoholic.
ALCOHOL does have an important place in today's motor vehicles - not inside the driver, said he. But a bus running on a fuel that in part is produced by a flour maker? Alcohol's derivatives of methanol and ethanol are increasingly entering the equation as the world's motor industry keeps experimenting with alternate fuels. The latest in Australia is diesohol, a blend of diesel and ethanol being field-tested by the Department of Environment, Sport and Territories.
The trials were run on six converted public buses in Canberra - three on neat diesel and three on the new brew. Results should be available in a few weeks.
The ethanol is made by Manildra, a gluten/flour manufacturer based in Nowra, New South Wales, where it has opened a $23 million plant to make ethanol from waste starch from the prduction of wheat protein, or gluten, for export.
The mixture is milky because it uses an emulsifier developed by an Australian company, Apace Research. The trials are believed to be the first such in the world. Now all Canberra has to do is take away the ridiculous revenue-raising excise on diesel fuel and we might see this country's transport system, using diesel as it's used in Europe - and result in the import of some pretty terrific cars.
Nissan's snow job.
ALREADY the major personal sponsor for Olympian Kirstie Marshall, Nissan Australia has got further into snow sports through a new deal with Mount Buller. The company's director of marketing and product planning, Bob Pattison, says Nissan will run a series of surveys of skiers to shape a plan for the future of Australia's biggest (and probably most acessible) ski resort.
Pattison says both downhill and cross-country skiers are big users of Nissan's Patrol, Pathfinder and Navara four-wheel-drive models (well, he would say that, wouldn't he?), and the Mount Buller operators are keen to focus on what skiers want for the future of the resort. OK, let's not knock it.
Dates for the diary.
JUST a reminder about the Australian Ferrari Register's gig for Good Friday and the Royal Children's Hospital Appeal. Call Martin Wenban on 6657202 or 7351035 and pledge your donation in return for laps of Sandown Park raceway as a passenger in a Testarossa, Boxer or Daytona.
Easter weekend also sees the national Peugeot Pageant in Canberra. Pug owners are so poodle-loyal to their marque they keep reminding you the first Redex round-Australia trial was won by one. That was 41 years ago, guys. Anyway, it's on from Easter Saturday - info from Nick Ilic on (06)2319429.
Stares and whispers.
A NEW Ford-Holden war is about to erupt. Yesterday's debut of the new 1.3-litre Ford Festiva, with its aggressive base price of $14,695, has really thrown down the gauntlet to Holden, which next month will unveil its Opel-designed, Spanish-built Corsa replacement for the Japanese Isuzu Barina.
These two cars are going to redefine the Australian small car market because the Laser and Corolla and 323 are all moving upstairs. For instance, the 1.3 Daihatsu Charade is $15,910, the 1.3 Mazda 121 $14,990, the 1.3 Suzuki Swift GL $16,890, and the cheapest Hyundai Excel $13,690. I'll give you the inside running on this poodle-sized dog fight in tomorrow's `Age' - except we're dealing more with Jack Russell terriers.