A new report on 'sustainable value' in car manufacturing, published last week, ranks the sustainability of the production process of 17 leading global carmakers between 1999 and 2007.
The survey, funded by Germany's BMW Group, was undertaken by researchers at the Euromed Management School in Marseille, Queen's University Belfast and the Berlin Institute for Future Studies and Technology Assessment.
According to the report, BMW generated "the highest sustainable value per sale" from its resources over the entire review period, except for 2003 and 2006, when Toyota, a Japanese company, led the rankings. Honda, another Japanese company, also consistently featured among the top three.
The top performers use their economic, environmental and social capital more efficiently than their industry peers and generate more profit with these assets, according to the report.
Except for the stellar performance of BMW, the study shows "a mixed picture" as far as other European manufacturers are concerned. Peugeot-Citroën, Renault, Volkswagen and DaimlerChrysler "only occasionally keep pace with the industry leaders." it found.
Fiat performed particularly poorly, falling behind throughout the whole survey period. The Italian carmaker was accompanied by North American carmakers Ford and General Motors (GM), with GM showing "the most striking downside trend" between 1999 and 2007.
On the contrary, the authors note that compared with European and North American manufacturers, "a relatively high number of Asian carmakers achieve positive sustainable value" and use key natural resources more efficiently than their rivals.
Toyota, Hyundai, Nissan, Honda, and to a lesser extent Suzuki were all identified as having out-performed their North American competitors in particular.
Professor Frank Figge from Queen's University Management School stressed that while issues such as fleet consumption and CO2 emissions from cars now figure on the policy agenda, "the equally considerable environmental impact of the production phase of car manufacturing has as yet been largely ignored". He expressed hope that the survey would help close this gap.
Tobias Hahn, associate professor at the Euromed Management School in Marseille, stressed that the study "analyses the sustainability performance of a whole sector" as the 17 companies reviewed account for some 80% of carmaking worldwide.
The companies reviewed include BMW Group, Daihatsu, DaimlerChrysler/Daimler AG, Fiat Auto, Ford, General Motors (GM), Honda, Hyundai, Isuzu, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Peugeot-Citroën, Renault, Suzuki, Tata, Toyota and Volkswagen Group.
Companies that do not publicly make available enough data to be reviewed, such as Porsche, KIA and Chinese manufacturers, did not feature in the study.
The performance of the 17 carmakers was measured against a set of economic, environmental and social criteria, including capital use, water consumption, waste generation, the number of employees and work accidents, and emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulphur oxides (SOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC).