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Tuesday, Jun 04, 2002

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What to do with your old car? Ask BMW

M. Somasekhar

The luxurious BMW 7 Series.

Recently in Germany

IN India, moves are afoot to fix the maximum age of roadworthiness of an automobile at 15 years. That means, if your car has completed 15 years of faithful service to you, it has to be taken off roads. Delhi, Mumbai and now Hyderabad, are to implement this rule, essentially to bring down air pollution due to vehicular emissions.

In Germany, if a car completes 12-15 years on roads, it is the responsibility of the owner to pay the requisite money and handover the vehicle to the automobile manufacturer or an authorised dismantling plant.

If the car happens to be a Bayerishe Motoren Werke (BMW) make, then the task is easy, as the automobile major has an exclusive dismantling and recycling plant, that uses hi-tech gadgetry and methods to rapidly dismantle what are termed End of Life Vehicles (ELVs) and try to extract useful stuff from them.

The dismantling and recycling plant of the luxury carmaker at Lohhof near Munich is the only such facility promoted by an automobile major and is being upgraded as a competence centre and technology forum for all questions regarding vehicle recycling.

Every year an average of 2000 BMWs are handled at this unique facility. It means an equivalent of around 3,600 tonnes of weight, which includes 1,700 tonnes of bodyshells, 200 tonnes of operating fuels (oil, fuel), 20 tonnes of plastics, 30 tonnes of non-ferrous metals and 5 tonnes of batteries are dismantled in total.

With the European Union (EU) nations agreeing in the year 2000 to implement a directive which says that by January 1, 2006 at least 85 per cent of the average vehicle weight should be recycled and from 2007, the owner of the ELV should be able to return it free of charge to the manufacturer, BMW feels it is well placed to derive advantage from its headstart in dismantling and recycling technology.

BMW, whose revenues touched $ 1.64 billion last year, has already become the preferred choice for other leading automobile makers such as Mercedes and Porsche for its expertise in dismantling and recycling. In Germany alone, each year 1.4 million ELVs were ready for recycling, said Mr Guido Konn, the official spokesman of the facility at Lohhof.

The BMW plant earns around $ 1.5 million by selling parts that have been recycled from the ELVs at the Lohhof unit. A database on the dismantling and recycling called IDIS has been created by the BMW group with active inputs from 20 carmakers. The database contains information on about 20,000 components fabricated by these automobile majors.

The biggest challenge in the dismantling and recycling task is to tackle some of the materials such as mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium and lead which are now part of the vehicle and from July 1, 2003 the EU directive is to ban their use on environmental grounds. Mercury, for example, is used in the headlight bulbs while lead is a major composition of the battery. Though the BMW plant gets paid for the vehicles returned by consumers at present and earns roughly $ 1.5 million through the sale of recycled parts, the exercise is far too little compared to the investment made on the facilities, the spokesman told a group of visiting journalists from Asia recently.

BMW set up the plants essentially as a research and development centre that gives insights into the automobile. As a spin-off of this activity, the company has developed new gadgets for easy dismantling, which are finding application in other industry. Similarly, ''we are able to fabricate components which can be easily dismantled and recycled in the newer cars'', Mr Konn said.

The lessons learnt from this plant and also in Germany would be taken to all major markets of the BMW in efforts to provide cars that are more environment-friendly and easy to dismantle and recycle, he said.

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