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Developing lightweight concepts in the automotive industry: taking on the environmental challenge with the SåNätt project

Kastensson, Åsa
Journal of cleaner production 2014 v.66 pp. 337-346
automobiles, carbon dioxide, greenhouse gas emissions, infrastructure, manufacturing
Given the all-encompassing environmental challenge facing the automotive industry the weight of the car is one essential factor that has an effect on CO2 emissions for both conventional cars and for Electric Vehicles and Hybrid Electric Vehicles. Even though automakers understand and have largely mastered the technical difficulties involved with alternatives to the all-steel body, the mainstream industry has nevertheless for the most part retained it. The purpose of this paper is to explore the SåNätt lightweight project as a concrete example of how two Swedish automakers (Saab and Volvo) have approached the lightweight challenge, but also to conceptualize the project in terms of what hinders and enables environmental innovations in the automotive industry. The result of the study indicates fundamentally different approaches between the automakers. While Saab focused on radical development of new concepts aiming to build a supplier structure for collaboration, Volvo focused on incremental development emphasizing short-term implementation. The empirical data also reveals a tendency for Volvo to be more deeply committed to its infrastructure for body manufacturing (the production of the all-steel body), thus hindering more radical changes. The paper concludes by highlighting a paradox emerging from the case, questioning whether established actors in the automotive industry can effectively deal with the environmental challenge.