DETROIT - Automotive engineers could be forgiven for thinking that TLC no longer means 'tender loving care.'
The initials have been claimed by Total Life Cycle management analysts, who are pushing automakers to consider 'womb-to-tomb' cost models as they develop cars.
Globalization plays a role by linking North American automakers into rules that govern Europe, Japan and emerging nations.
European initiatives, for example, make manufacturers responsible for their products long after consumers are done with them, requiring take-back programs for many durable products. In Japan and Europe, regulations specify that many fluids and commonly discarded replacement parts are hazardous waste, subject to expensive handling and disposal methods.
Nations with emerging automotive industries, including China and India, are developing their own environmental policies - with no guarantee of harmonizing them with those of existing auto-manufacturing economies.
Enter the life-cycle management analyst, who can show manufacturers the cost of proposed car components based not on the immediate purchase price or potential customer sales, but on the true costs of a component to the carmaker over the product's life.
The issue took center stage last month during SAE's Total Life Cycle Conference, held at Chrysler Corp.'s World Headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich.
As an example, when BMW analyzed a rear-axle assembly for its 7 series, a steel axle easily won the initial energy production cost battle. But more energy-expensive aluminum axles won the womb-to-tomb cost analysis because of weight savings, fuel efficiency and easy recycling, said Harald Franze, manager of auto recycling research and development for BMW AG in Munich.
'The vehicle investigated here showed an energy break-even point at around 130,000 kilometers (80,780 miles). As of this travel distance, aluminum represents the more energy economically sound concept as opposed to the conventional steel solution,' he said.
Franze said that, as a result of such life-cycle analysis, the 1998 BMW 5 series will have an aluminum rear axle.
Similarly, a Chrysler-sponsored study on oil filters, carried out by Franklin Associates Ltd., used life-cycle management formulas to compare standard disposable steel filters, new disposable plastic filters and a proposed life-of-the-vehicle cartridge filter.
Franklin found that steel and plastic filters were cheaper, weighed less and exposed mechanics to less oil - but the potential liability costs to Chrysler of either disposable filter, based on pollution hazards from improper disposal, made the heavier cartridge filter the theoretical life-cycle winner by a wide margin. Chrysler has since teamed with Purolator Products Co. to explore the cartridge filter's potential in a two-year, 40-vehicle trial on leased vehicles.
While advocates note that the life-cycle model helps designers and engineers make better and more-consistent long-term decisions, they also realize that businesses seek short-term profitability and must meet consumer demand.
Robert Price, a professor at the Keller Graduate School of Management in El Toro, Calif., said life-cycle analysis helps companies see the need for improvement in design for disassembly, as well as design for recyclability, to meet increasing environmental rules worldwide. Without a life-cycle model to show how such design changes can benefit the business, getting business to consider anything other than immediate pricing and customer demand is hard, he said.
'From a marketing outlook, consumer response and behavior is well understood,' Price wrote in a paper published as part of the conference. 'Conversely, when it comes to evaluating a product's total life-cycle costs and environmental pricing, many companies simply act as if they have been blindfolded.'
Price proposes a formula to let component suppliers set environmental pricing strategies for their products using life-cycle philosophies. He points out that acting on such a model can help suppliers define an industry niche, and may even let prepared suppliers create barriers to entry for would-be competitors.
Despite their interest, auto industry leaders and key supply groups are worried. Chief among their fears: total-life-cycle modeling, meant as a business tool, may be used by regulators as a policy-making formula.
Representatives from the Big 3, the aluminum industry and the plastics industry warned a discussion group on regulatory effects that total-life-cycle management may look like a way to quantify recyclability, push design for disassembly or limit hazardous materials.
Instead, the discipline is an emerging series of economic modeling tools for manufacturers, and many of the formulas base themselves on estimates, internal indexes and educated guesses about future trends.
They said that to make these formulas regulatory policy mechanisms, rather than self-developed competitive business tools, would harm the industry and delay potential environmental benefits.