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Do you care how environmentally responsible your car is? How Audi will take the fight to BMW and Polestar in new sustainability battleground

Both Polestar and BMW have made bold sustainability promises, but Audi thinks its place in VW Group will give it an edge.

Who will be the most sustainable? Volvo’s sports luxury spinoff, Polestar, or VW Group’s sports luxury giant, Audi?

Audi has outlined its “Vorsprung 2030” plan to electrify its entire range and build its last combustion car by 2033 and has further detailed the lengths it will go to, in an attempt to ensure its entire fleet will be covered by a sustainability promise.

It comes as brands are faced with new supply-chain problems, as the shift to electrification is causing a once-in-a-lifetime rethink of what constitutes car emissions. European brands in particular are beginning to consider “lifecycle emissions” – that is, the total emissions which go into building a car, charging a car, then what happens to its components at its end-of-life.

Like its Scandinavian Polestar rival, Audi’s plans include a CO2 lifecycle report of its vehicles, but says it can go further than that by leaning on “economies of scale” granted to it by its presence in the VW Group to cover its entire supply chain.

The German brand hopes “sustainability will set us apart for consumers” and has flagged how its facilities will use only green energy from hydro, solar, or wind in battery construction, and how it plans to “close material loops” and reclaim raw commodities. In fact, the brand says since 2017, it already exclusively relies on recycled aluminium, which it claims saves 165,000 tonnes of CO2 a year.

It is also looking into the recycling of polymers used in its cars. Presently, the yet-to-launch e-Tron GT will use recycled plastics in some of its interior surfaces. The brand said it can “chemically” recycle more of the polymers used in its older cars but is striving to also make the process “economical” for more widespread use.

Audi's aluminium closed loop allows it to cut a significant amount of emissions from manufacturing. Audi's aluminium closed loop allows it to cut a significant amount of emissions from manufacturing.

It also says it will use AI to try to verify its suppliers all the way down to raw material gathering and help identify “dodgy” ecological or social issues with supplier companies.

The AI is designed to search media reports and social media for instances where the brand’s suppliers may be involved in such issues. It says only companies which have been properly vetted will be able to achieve what it calls an “S-Rating” for maximum sustainability. The brand will even go to lengths to visit individual mining sites in-person if “red flags are raised.”

One such “controversial” material is cobalt, which is a required component in most lithium-ion batteries and is currently sourced from sites with dubious human rights and environmental records in Africa. Audi says not only does it plan to vet suppliers as outlined above but it will continually reduce the amount of cobalt in its batteries, with the ultimate goal to move to solid-state battery technology, which it says will “eliminate some commodities” from its supply chains. Audi considers cobalt one of 60 commodities which it traces particularly closely.

Audi will use AI to trace the ecological and social practices of some 14,000 suppliers. Audi will use AI to trace the ecological and social practices of some 14,000 suppliers.

It says with 14,000 suppliers in six countries its “S-Rating” program will be hard to trace, with second- or third-tier suppliers, particularly in China, being difficult to follow.

Both Polestar and BMW have said they will lean on blockchain technologies to trace cobalt through the ecosystem of their vehicles.

Audi says it is possible to get to a point where “when you hand over a car, it is CO2 neutral”, with a target for materials in its vehicles to be 90 per cent recyclable. Its Polestar rival plans the same thing by 2030. Will buyers care? Time will tell, but Audi promises it will still build “great, emotional cars” despite a focus on sustainability and electrification.