Comments Email Print

WASHINGTON — The plastics, aluminum and steel industries have agreed to pool common data for the first time during a study of energy use by automobiles from manufacture to junkyard.

Work began about three years ago and should finish up early next year, USCAR officials said. The groups only recently announced they have agreed on a common way to analyze the data.

The study, conducted with the Big Three U.S. carmakers, could prove risky because each of the participants ``may discover certain data that is not 100 percent positive for our industry,'' said Andrew Sharkey, president and chief executive officer of the American Iron and Steel Institute.

But using common data-gathering methods will give the study credibility and move the debate beyond the ``history of unsubstantiated claims based on quasi-scientific studies'' in previous efforts, called life-cycle inventory studies, he said.

``We are moving away from self-serving, subjective claims to a higher ground with documented, third-party conclusions,'' Sharkey said.

The study was announced April 29 by trade groups representing the three materials — the Aluminum Association, the American Plastics Council and the steel institute — and officials from the U.S. Council for Automotive Research, a partnership of Chrysler Corp., Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp. USCAR joins research efforts on ``pre-competitive'' issues to speed development.

The study will allow the industries to ``take the lead'' on issues and potentially avoid government dictates, said Red Cavaney, APC president and chief executive officer.

None of the participants would say how much the study costs or how much each party is kicking in. They said they have not developed preliminary results.

The study will use 1994 models of the Intrepid, Lumina and Taurus cars to identify the energy costs of extracting raw materials from the earth, making parts, assembling, maintaining and operating the car, and recycling and disposal.

Aluminum, iron castings, plastics and steel make up 81 percent of a car's weight, according to USCAR.

The study will not explicity compare costs of different materials in what is known as a life- cycle assessment, said John Sullivan, a Ford senior scientist working on the study. Al Maten, APC durables director, said APC feels ``very comfortable going into the study that we will have some winners.''

About 85 percent of the energy used in a car's life cycle is during its operation, while 15 percent is in the manufacture, Cavaney said.