Socio-technical factors influencing current trends in material throughput in the UK automotive industry

Simone Cooper, Brendan J. Doody, Julian M. Allwood

This paper investigates why material throughput remains high in the UK automotive industry when there are opportunities for material efficiency improvements. Informed by socio-technical studies of automobility, the paper emphasises the importance of recognising how decisions regarding material use are always shaped by more than simply cost considerations. Drawing on industry interviews, six interconnected socio-technical factors are identified that guide the vehicle design and manufacturing process. These are: (1) customer preferences; (2) market positioning; (3) techno-economic feasibility; (4) supply chain feasibility; (5) regulation and (6) organisational attributes. These factors can provide insights into the current operating context of the UK automotive industry and help explain why the average material intensity of vehicles and vehicle throughput are increasing. Overall, the paper shows that the efficiency of material use in the UK automotive industry is the outcome of complex and advanced design and manufacturing processes. Understanding these processes and the factors that guide them can potentially increase the likelihood of the automotive industry adopting material efficiency initiatives.