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Volvo Car Corporation: Borrowing a leaf from nature to deliver on sustainable mobility


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GÖTEBORG (September 22, 2005) – Engineers at Volvo Car Corporation are developing manufacturing techniques to realize a future where much of a vehicle’s interior is literally borrowed from nature. They are experimenting with fabrics, floor mats and other materials based on renewable and sustainable sources such as hemp, jute, rapeseed and soya.


As part of a visionary roadmap to sustain humankind’s future mobility through 2020 and beyond, Volvo Cars’ environmental vision goes beyond studying new technologies to replace conventional oil-burning engines with hybrids and alternative fuel options. Volvo Cars' research and design teams are working towards a vision in which, by 2020, the textiles and materials in its vehicles will increasingly use renewable natural products.


“We are accelerating into the fast lane of the green auto revolution by taking key steps today towards seeing drivers and passengers sitting in Volvo cars with ‘hard’ components such as dashboards and ceilings made of flax and cellulose rather than petroleum-based polymers, and enjoying comfortable seats using natural fiber and soya-based foam fillings,” says Katarina Sundqvist of Volvo Cars R&D vehicle engineering department.


Bio-based products make huge sense

Integrating bio-based products into Volvo vehicles to replace petroleum-based components makes a lot of sense for a number of ecological and economic reasons, says Katarina Sundqvist. “Using bio-based products would reduce the need to transport materials since many agricultural parts are made locally. Bio-based products are also easy to manufacture, help reduce agricultural waste and improve a vehicle’s biodegradability and recyclability.”


After two years of development, Volvo Cars has started a pilot production of a cargo floor tray that replaces the traditional polyester with 100 per cent biodegradable flax. Easy to break down and compost, the cellulose tray also gives better noise reduction qualities. The natural materials used in the tray can also be used to make hard panels such as centre consoles or pillar panels in vehicles.


Volvo Cars 2020 vision also envisages using naturally grown fibers to replace glass fiber in plastics and resins.


“Not only are natural fibers such as sisal, hemp, jute and flax a renewable, sustainable resource, but bio-fibers also reduce both the weight of a car and the cost of materials,” says Anders Högström of Volvo Cars interior and climate engineering strategy department. “Replacing glass fiber with lower density natural fiber can slash the weight of some of the materials used in a car by up to 30 per cent, contributing to lower fuel consumption and less pollution.”


Benefits of replacing glass fiber with natural fibers

“In addition saving weight, the benefits of using natural fibers include improved damping characteristics, less abrasion on tooling, and better recyclability,” adds Anders Högström. “Thermoset materials using natural fibers cut petroleum dependence and deliver cost and performance advantages. The bio-based materials developed by Volvo Cars also give improved safety because natural fibers absorb energy extremely efficiently in the event of side collisions and do not crack or splinter.”


Today, some 85 per cent by weight of a Volvo vehicle is recyclable, with 26 per cent comprising plastics and other non-metallic materials. Volvo Cars already uses vegetable-based renewable materials in close to 100 components, mostly for sound absorption or mats made of cotton fibers. As well, a number of door panels and head linings are also based on renewable sources. Volvo Cars believes that by switching more materials to bio-based products it could contribute to reducing global use of crude oil for plastics by around 550,000 barrels annually by 2020. Today’s challenge is to ensure a natural-based product can withstand high temperatures of manufacturing and cope with the moisture and dampness experienced during a vehicle’s useful life.


“But our vision for 2020 is to leap even further ahead,” says Lex Kerssemakers, Senior Vice President, Brand, Business and Product Strategy at Volvo Cars. “We are only at the start of an exciting journey designed to make Volvo Cars one of the absolute environmental leaders among makers of premium cars.”


Committed to a cleaner ecological footprint

As part of its commitment to create a cleaner ecological footprint, Volvo Cars is working to use biopolymers, which can be composted, to reduce the use of finite resources as well as the production of waste. Underlining Volvo Cars’ intent to be as acclaimed for its environmental contributions as for its attention to safety, Lex Kerssemakers adds: “Our aim is to clean up our ecological footprint, as well as enhance the opportunities for individuals to benefit from sustainable mobility.”


Although Volvo Cars carries out much of its research internally, the company has forged strong collaborative links with the Ford Motor Company and external suppliers and technological institutions such as the Chalmers Institute of Technology in Gothenburg.


A strategy for putting human well-being and the environment first

With its vision for 2020 Volvo Cars is exploring an environmentally friendlier future where human health, well-being and the environment are prioritized by its safe, attractive and ecologically sustainable mobility solutions. “Our vision is to be part of the solution for the main environmental challenges for the automotive industry – climate change, air quality, oil dependency and traffic congestion,” says Lex Kerssemakers.


Knowing it cannot achieve sustainable mobility alone, Volvo Cars will focus on areas where it can contribute the most: energy efficiency, health and personal mobility. Thus, Volvo Cars is pursuing a company-wide strategy for sustainable mobility geared to manage business processes, projects and product development in line with its sustainability aspirations.


Volvo Cars of Canada Ltd. is part of the Volvo Car Corporation of Göteborg, Sweden. The company provides marketing, sales, parts, service, technology and training support to the 43 Volvo automobile retailers across the country. The company’s product range includes the flagship S80 luxury sedan, the versatile V70 wagon, the S60 sports sedan, and the completely redesigned S40 sports sedan and V50 sportswagon. For buyers looking for more rugged versatility, the Volvo XC-line of vehicles that includes the XC70 and the award-winning XC90 sport utility vehicle.


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Doug Mepham

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Chad Heard



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