GM Facility Tour

Mar 1, 2021 | Industry

By Vince Edivan

On January 27, ARA invited a group of employees from General Motors to tour Fox Auto Parts in Belleville, MI just outside of Detroit. Executive Director Sandy Blalock, President Scott Robertson and I, along with Fox Auto Parts General Manager Larry Williams hosted the group.

We held two tours of the facility. Each hour and a half tour walked the guests through the entire process of inventorying, dismantling, storage, sales, shipping and even crushing end-of-life vehicles.

As Larry walked us through the entire operation at Fox, it was interesting to listen to what the GM employees keyed in on. Their questions continued to focus on sustainability and how they can minimize waste when designing vehicles. Several of the GM guests commented how fascinating it was to see how much of the vehicle was recycled and resold, and one guest commented, “It makes our job to focus on the areas that we can do better. Throughout the whole tour I was thinking of ways that we could design up front to make things easier to disassemble … what’s in that ‘fluff’ that we could start to eliminate.”

The visit was inspired by an ongoing conversation between Blalock and Sophia Borroni-Bird, sustainability lead at General Motors. Borroni-Bird is also the General Motors’ representative within The Supplier Partnership for the Environment, a group of OEMs and their suppliers working together to develop industry ideas and plans to advance environmental sustainability through the automotive supply chain.

Following the tour, I spoke to Borroni-Bird on the experience:

How was the experience of touring the auto recycling facility?

It was a great experience. I think it was really insightful, too, with how unique each facility is. They stressed that this is how this facility works, and the top components that they have the ability to resell and recycle, but it is not the same at all facilities. I think that was one of the most interesting insights that I personally took from the experience – the complexity of the recycling and dismantling aspect and how unique it is to each facility.

What impressions did you take away?

There were several key takeaways.

One is how dependent members of the Automotive Recyclers Association are on internal combustion engine vehicles and how the majority of revenue they generate is from ICE products.

Another takeaway is how auto recyclers are pivoting to manage the processes in the future and looking at creative ways to make sure that electronics can be safely recycled to generate similar revenue streams. I think that this would be interesting to look into, as well, because you know that’s something that we’re all thinking about and it’s not something that just one team will solve.

In what way did what your experience impact what you do?

One member of our design team sent me a message after the tour that said, “That was one of the coolest things I’ve done in the past six months.”

For me, my takeaway is that we have a lot of steps in between when we deliver a vehicle to a dealership and when that vehicle ends up with members of the ARA. We have a lot of similar data from our dealerships, such as on recalled parts. We probably get the data faster, but I’m wondering if there are areas that we could benefit from on the information that recyclers glean. Such as taking into consideration how our products are developed that take into account the way they are dismantled, which is very different information from what dealerships provide. In the future, is there opportunity to tie end-of-life management with the initial design with our suppliers and our product engineering team as we look more and more into life cycle analysis? I think this relationship will be interesting to see how it can potentially be leveraged.

We are aware that there used to be a partnership between GM, Ford and ARA around 2007. At that time, we had engineers investigating end-of-life management, which is something that has not been considered for a while.

So, I think OEMs recognize that there is an opportunity to learn from your industry.

Were there things you saw that would help the design phase to help mitigate waste?

Yes, and there’s an entire team just focusing on this. Our design, color and trim team is looking at this information and I’m sure they’re taking that into account. I’m not privy to those conversations, but I will say I was really impressed to learn that even the “fluff” is used in a productive way by being landfill covering. I think that the communication that your team has around how they are able to creatively make use of most of the materials was inspiring to the GM team.

What future opportunities do you envision?

I lead The Supplier Partnership for the Environment with representatives from Toyota, Honda, and Ford. Sandy did a presentation to attendees at our last meeting. That has spurred some good conversation, so throughout the industry group we can see if there is some guidance that we can distribute or even work with your team to create some industry definitions. This was a great experience for everyone and we hope to expand on this idea by inviting other design teams to tour auto recycling facilities. 

Vince Edivan is ARA’s Director of Member Relations. In his role, he represents ARA at state industry events, working to connect with current and potential members.

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