What do you think is the most carbon-intensive process in the automotive industry? The production of headlights certainly seems like a good bet. Bulbs, lenses, and housings require a number of different parts from dozens of different suppliers, after all. Or perhaps it's the making of engines? You'd probably be pretty surprised to discover that making wheels isn't exactly a clean process.
According to BMW, about 5% of the supply chain's CO2 footprint comes from the making of wheels. That doesn't sound like a lot, but it is. Four to five wheels a car multiplied by, er, a lot of cars means a lot of wheels get made over the course of a year. The BMW Group alone makes around 10 million of them a year, with 95% of these being aluminum. That's why the BMW Group has announced all of its aluminum wheels will be produced from 100% green power by 2024.
It's a tricky thing to manage. See, BMW isn't usually the one making the wheels. Instead, it's companies like, say, BBS. Through independent audits of all of its suppliers, BMW says these new sustainable aluminum wheels will save around 500,000 tons of CO2 a year. Not bad. Of course, there's other sustainability benefits here as well. Aluminum is incredibly recyclable, meaning old wheels can be melted down and reused for something else at the end of their lives. It also eliminates the need for energy-intensive electrolysis to produce raw aluminum from scratch.
But it won't be a green-er car like the BMW i4 wearing the first set of sustainable aluminum shoes. Instead, it'll be a Mini. The switch will happen around 2023 says BMW, and the newest generation of the Mini Countryman will be the first. The 2023 model will first use 70% green aluminum wheels before the full-green ones are slowly brought in. In tandem, BMW says these greener wheels will drop CO2 emissions by up to 80%.
The push for greener supply chains at BMW does have a larger goal, the company says. On the whole, it hopes to drop emissions throughout its supply chain by 20% from 2019 levels by 2030. The change began slowly last year when BMW began sourcing wheels from a UAE-based supplier that uses exclusively solar-obtained electricity to produce its wheels. BMW hasn't said if there's any performance gains to come from these new wheels, but let's hope that's the case.