Circularity in car design requires a culture shift

2022 Citroen Oli - ext R3Q R

Sustainable car design is finally starting to gain speed but it needs to accelerate faster and more credibly than ever. Jonathan Bell gauges the state of the industry

Towards the end of the last decade, one could get a very concrete example of the auto industry’s wayward relationship with waste. Across North America, Volkswagen was storing over 300,000 vehicles, all recalled and bought back following the ‘dieselgate’ scandal that began in late 2015. While many of these cars were subsequently rectified and re-sold, the sight of airfields stacked with rank upon rank of cars debilitated only by a few sneaky lines of computer code brought home the ‘fire and forget’ nature of mass consumption.

For the vast majority of the 20th century, production and consumption had little relationship to a product’s end of life journey. Although whole industries were devoted to servicing, repairing and ultimately breaking down and scrapping cars, it was not a closed system. Virgin raw materials flowed in, shiny new cars flowed out, beaten up wrecks staggered into scrapyards, their components and raw materials often too costly to extract and refine, with strict prohibitions against…

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