A century ago, Henry Ford was known for insisting that parts be shipped to his factories in wooden crates whose slats were sized so they could be reused to build parts of the Model T body.
Now a similar spirit of saving scrap is being used to stamp fender baffles for the new 2011 Ford Explorer out of steel left over after door openings are cut into body-side stampings for the full-size F-150 pickup truck.
2010 Ford F-150 Harley Davidson
The pieces that were cut out are trucked from the stamping plant in Woodhaven, Michigan, to a supplier in nearby Monroe, where they're cut down into the baffles, which help dampen road noise.
Ford estimates the process will save 119 tons of new steel a year, reducing carbon dioxide by the equivalent of 350,000 miles in a midsize car.
Ford's stamping engineers keep an eye out for scrap parts that can be reused, an executive told Ward's Auto, but typically the parts made from reused scrap are smaller: brackets, reinforcements, and the like.
Many automakers promote their "green manufacturing" initiatives, either at specific factories or across model lines. As well as reusing scrap steel, Ford uses renewable soy-based polyurethane foam to make up 40 percent of the seat upholstery in the 2011 Explorer.
In Lafayette, Indiana, the Subaru manufacturing plant that makes Legacy sedans and Outback wagons--as well as Toyota Camry sedans on a separate line--sends no waste to landfills. The factory either eliminates or recycles all its scrap, and uses any leftover as fuel.
These are all worthy initiatives, though all the recycled materials, zero-landfill manufacturing and similar programs in the world do much less to reduce a car's overall impact on the global environment than does reducing the amount of fuel it consumes.
According to On the Road in 2020: A Lifecycle Analysis of New Automotive Technologies, a 2000 study done at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, fully 75 percent of a vehicle's lifetime carbon footprint comes from the fuel it burns--and another 19 percent comes from producing that fuel.
Still, every little bit counts.