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Driving Change

How BMW is designing EVs: A case study

In an interview, BMW North America's director of sustainability breaks down the importance of circularity in EV design and manufacturing.

The interior of a BMW i5

The BMW i5's body consists of secondary aluminum; its carpets are made from recycled fishing nets. Source: Shutterstock/Kittyfly

As I noted in December, 2024 is the year of circularity and manufacturing decarbonization for the automotive industry. Simply producing an EV is not the whole picture when it comes to automotive decarbonization, even though new data from Bloomberg highlights that EV life-cycle emissions can be more than 70 percent lower than a gasoline and diesel vehicle when used for roughly 155,000 miles.

Some automakers are taking EV circularity head-on. Take Volvo Cars, which recently put out its carbon footprint report for the Volvo EX30 showcasing the lowest carbon footprint of any Volvo to date with a life-cycle emissions level of 23 metric tons carbon dioxide equivalent when driven over 200,000 km and charged on a European electricity mix. 

To learn more about how to address EV life-cycle emissions and build a more circular product, I spoke with Denise Melville, BMW North America's director of sustainability.


4 key elements for building circularity

During our conversation, Melville shared the four elements for building a more circular product: 

  1. Design circularity into the process.
  2. Remove pollution from manufacturing. 
  3. Collaborate with others across your supply chain and beyond.
  4. Evaluate the highest-value areas to target first for using recyclable materials. 

Melville also detailed what it takes to build circularity into a traditionally more linear manufacturing process. "From an automotive manufacturer process, you have to think about everybody who is involved in that process," she said. "We have to think about the entire process from raw materials to manufacturing right through our dealer partners."

As an example, Melville described how the BMW i5 already has circularity baked into it. The vehicle has entirely secondary aluminum in its body and carpets made from recycled fishing nets. Additionally, many of the parts that come off vehicles when serviced at a BMW dealer go back to the automaker, get remanufactured and put back into the supply chain.  

Recycling tires

Recent data from Emissions Analytics shows that cars in the U.S. emit about 5 pounds of tire particles a year, on average. The data also shows that EV tire emissions are 20 percent higher than their fossil fuel equivalent due to their weight and greater torque as the tires wear out faster. This higher emissions impact is why tire leaders such as Goodyear are redesigning and releasing greener and longer-lasting tires built for EVs specifically.  

But more can be done. According to Melville, 380 million tires are sold annually in the U.S. and about 10 to 20 percent end up in a landfill. That’s why BMW is launching a tire recycling program that will go into effect later this year. "Our dealers and BMW will recycle every single tire that comes off a BMW, and no other manufacturer is doing that," Melville shared.  

BMW’s call to action to other automakers 

"It’s not OK to just put electric vehicles on the streets," Melville said when asked about her call to action for the rest of the automotive industry. "Everybody needs to look at their ICE — internal combustion engine vehicles — their EVs and look initially where they are going to recycle, how they are going to remanufacture and work together on platforms to share with our suppliers."

As Melville made clear during our discussion, now is the time for automakers to step up and collaborate on driving automotive circularity forward.

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