A View into the Crystal Ball of Auto Recycling

Billy Steve L_350

Used auto parts and auto recycling and the Consumer Electronics Show? Did I take a wrong turn? Didn’t I mean to go to the Detroit Auto Show? Nope, I was in the right place (with 182,000 of my closest friends) …

So, what was the relevance to our segment of the scrap recycling industry? We often wish we had a crystal ball, to look into the future. This was our crystal ball (in 4K – soon to be 8K, then 12K). It turns out that the Consumer Electronics Show (now, simply referred to as CES) has become one of the largest auto shows in the country. Virtually every manufacturer was there, not only showing off concept cars that we might see in the future (or not), but also vehicles that we will see in the next model year or two. Obvious trends continue to be changes in materials to make cars lighter, stronger, and more fuel efficient, but also dramatic changes in safety features, including autonomous vehicles – yes they are coming and were on the streets of Las Vegas. The other trends? More and more hybrid vehicles and Electric Vehicles (EVs). Also, more and more electronics in our cars, and imbedded within what used to be purely mechanical parts.

Relevance? Shifting materials are obvious issues (opportunities?) for scrap recyclers. Increased electronics pose interesting issues for us. As an example, a transmission with a computer controller (which requires updatable software to operate). Will a subsequent owner of that transmission, purchased from one of our used auto parts recyclers, be able to reinstall and use that transmission? Will they have access/ownership of the software? Autonomous vehicles we are told will result in less accidents, which is great for us as consumers, but will surely have an impact on our future businesses. Increased vehicle life, with fewer crash parts to replace (and scrap).

And finally, let’s talk about batteries. They are everywhere …  There are two issues we are dealing with: first, larger EV and Hybrid batteries, which we are already seeing in auto and scrap recycling facilities, pose extreme safety issues for our employees, from fatal DC voltages to alkali electrolytes which require a new approach to neutralization. And second, lithium ion batteries can pose a significant fire threat when damaged, even smaller batteries. Again, new threats, and perhaps new opportunities. Can’t wait for that upgraded 12K crystal ball!

While ISRI’s Electronic Division has been engaged with CES for some time now, for many of us, this is our first exposure. We were able to participate in a roundtable with many of the major electronics manufacturers and raise some of these questions and concerns with them. This was their first exposure to many of our concerns – we hope this is the beginning of a broader dialog with them – and requested a broader cross section of manufactures (including automotive) at next year’s roundtable.

Steve Levetan is Executive Vice President of ISRI member Pull-A-Part. He serves as chair of ISRI’s Auto Recycling Committee. 

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