Rethinking the repairability and recycling of electric vehicles for sustainable mobility

Electric vehicles (EVs) embody one of the most significant innovations of our time in transportation.

However, behind the promise of more sustainable and environmentally friendly mobility lies a complex reality, punctuated by unique technological and operational challenges. The question of their repairability, particularly with regard to the value of their components, presents itself as a major issue. While the issue of recycling components constitutes an essential aspect of their environmental sustainability.

The electric car is often presented by many manufacturers as an ecological alternative to the thermal car. However, the carbon footprint of this new mode of transport remains subject to debate, especially if we take into account the impact of its design. Despite the observation that 54% of French owners of electric vehicles regret their purchase*, largely due to repairability difficulties, it is crucial to note that electric vehicles emit 77% less CO2 emissions than a petrol car in France, from production until the end of their life**. However, electric vehicles begin their life cycle with an environmental debt, particularly during their manufacturing. For example, the production of an electric sedan is estimated to emit more than 10 tonnes of CO2, compared to 5 for a diesel car. In this context, it is imperative to give increased importance to the repairability or recycling of their components.

Think of an electric vehicle as a modernized version of a thermal car, with an internal combustion engine replaced by an electric battery. This transition, centered on motorization, has major implications in terms of repairability. Component repair and recycling procedures are profoundly affected, while the value of component parts differs between the two types of vehicles, directly influencing their maintenance and durability.

Let's take the example of a 2005 Clio. When it is destined for scrapping, it is easily repossessed at an affordable price. A significant part of its value lies in the engine and gearbox, thus encouraging automobile scrapyards to recover these vehicles, dismantle the spare parts in perfect working order, and resell them at prices competitive with the price of the nine. Despite the numerous logistical, administrative and human costs involved, this practice remains viable and allows recycling professionals to be profitable in most cases.

On the other hand, for electric cars, the situation differs considerably. Although a rearview mirror remains a rearview mirror, the main source of value is no longer the engine but the battery, however it is difficult to dismantle and even more difficult to recycle or reuse. Consequently, a car scrapyard will have difficulty acquiring a damaged electric car at an affordable price and the resale of other spare parts will not generate profitability similar to the profitability of a thermal vehicle.

On the other hand, repairing electric vehicles and working on batteries requires real expertise and requires new approvals, specific installations and staff training. All these points constitute additional investments that are often dissuasive for automobile scrapyards or unprofitable.

Additionally, end-of-life electric vehicle batteries are classified as hazardous waste, which imposes strict management requirements. The high costs associated with their transport, as well as safety protocols, make their reuse or recycling economically unviable for professionals, who often simply store them.

Currently, we are seeing a growth in demand for spare parts on online platforms. However, auto scrapyards are struggling to cope due to challenges associated with processing, regulatory requirements, safety, and reuse of non-body parts. In addition, limited supply is noted, due to the recent introduction of these vehicles to the market.

To face these challenges, a global approach is necessary: ​​first of all, it is essential to rethink the regulations, ease the constraints of transporting batteries and promote reconditioning rather than traditional storage in automobile scrapyards. This requires calling on operators specialized in reconditioning, benefiting from the approval of manufacturers. In addition, the valuation of end-of-life electric vehicles must focus on the resale of spare parts rather than on the simple mass of the vehicle. Valuing the end of life of these vehicles will help maintain demand for these parts, thus promoting a circular economy.

Finally, raising consumer awareness of the reality of the carbon footprint of EVs is crucial. Just as in the United Kingdom, advertising in France should not ignore the CO2 emissions generated during the manufacture and dismantling of batteries.

In conclusion, the repairability of electric vehicles is a crucial challenge in the transition towards truly more sustainable mobility. The technical and financial constraints faced by automobile scrapyards in the processing of used batteries highlight the need for concerted action by all players in the automobile industry.

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