Auto Recycling World speaks to Shan Lathem, President of Cocoa Auto Salvage, Inc., based in Florida, US, about her new position as the recently elected President of the Automotive Recyclers Association, what she hopes to achieve, her thoughts on the auto recycling industry, and where it is headed especially when it comes to collaboration between industry stakeholders.
As I enter my presidential year serving ARA, I contemplate the possibilities this year holds for automotive recyclers. There have always been waves of change that would travel through our industry as the automobile and technologies have evolved. As independent recyclers, we have been able to easily and quickly adapt as needed. New opportunities are upon us, but how do we navigate these waters? It’s an exciting time, no doubt. With all the negatives that surrounded the pandemic, there were certainly some positives for automotive recycling. More people than ever are realizing the value of what we have to offer.
Some of the OEs are making the promise to be carbon neutral by 2030, the others aren’t far behind. This phrase – ‘carbon-neutral’ – seems to have quickly become a common one, right along with sustainability, like it’s a fresh, new concept. Automotive recycling has always been carbon neutral. Who is screaming this from the rooftops?!? Not sure about you, but I haven’t heard anyone publicly giving automotive recyclers the credit we are due. No doubt, you can hear the OEs promising carbon neutrality in the relatively near future.
EVs, yes, they are here. And yes, there will be more. Are they better for the environment, it’s looking doubtful. But recently, it’s not actual facts that people are interested in. It’s the narrative: “WE ARE DOING OUR PART.” OK, I can accept that public opinion is important, but I appreciate the truth. Are you really doing your part, or are you just saying you’re doing your part? Do you really care about our environment, or are you giving lip service to the government, an ESG score, and the public that wants to be a good environmental citizen? And if the OEs really want to make a difference and see more reuse, which is the highest form of recycling. Why won’t they share their build sheet data so we can put more re-use parts back into market, saving more components off of end-of-life vehicles? It’s like we say in the South (of the US), put your money where your mouth is. We’ve been asking for it for many years. Until this year, they didn’t even want to have conversations with us, and now they’re knocking on our door. This new found interest in our industry surely wasn’t just happenstance. More likely, they’ve decided that what we do can benefit their goals and directives.
The Automotive Recyclers Association has just celebrated 80 years. This idea of reuse and recycling is not new, but to hear the buzz, you would think something revolutionary was just discovered! ARA represented at NAATBAAT last year, where the OEs hailed the automotive recycler a super-hero. A Super-hero. What has happened? Why this sudden change in feeling toward us? This is an easy answer. They need us. They need us to achieve the goals they must meet to be compliant with government regulations and the public perception they are wanting the masses to adopt. Let’s be honest, many people don’t know about our industry today. How is that? How can that be possible? It’s likely we don’t do a very good job marketing ourselves. We don’t go around telling everyone how awesome we are. WE ARE AWESOME. Do you know how many other industries are carbon-negative? None. That’s pretty amazing, right?!? Many of us do what we do, day after day, because, well – It’s what we do. Many of us, like myself, were born into this industry. We grew up in it. We were raised in it, and now we have raised our families in it. What happens now, it’s hard to tell. It’s not like it used to be when small family-owned businesses were generational, and generation after generation knew their path. We have big money, investment groups entering into our industry. The number of them has increased, but this model isn’t new. The introduction of large corporate recyclers helped elevate the independent recycler. It made us raise our standards, it forced us to get better to survive. It’s certain there are many less dismantling facilities today than there used to be, but we are here doing what we have always done.
So how do the OEs plan to achieve carbon neutrality? It’s public record that the product line that produces profit is the ICE or hybrid vehicle manufacturing, not electric. Surely no one would continue on a business model that doesn’t make the investor a profit, right? Shareholders will not stand for that or for non-compliance with government directives that could cost them mega bucks, so how do they get there?
There has been public sharing of plans for cradle-to-cradle manufacturing. What does that mean? Automotive recycling is part of that life cycle. Yes, some OEs plan to and some are already dismantling and recycling automobiles. What would be the quickest way to achieve some of the goals they need to achieve? The fastest and easiest way would be to utilize our recycled parts. Selling more parts has long been the goal of automotive recyclers, but with what terms and conditions will this happen? And what are we willing to sacrifice to do this? What are they willing to give us in return?
Taking credit for the hard work of generations before us and the work we do day in and day out just isn’t acceptable. Automotive recyclers should be recognized for what we have always done and continue to do. Automotive recycling facilities get the short end of the stick and are often portrayed in the most negative light. People don’t know who we are and what we are doing. I’m a believer in working together. Even a bad relationship can be mended, but it’s a give and take that both parties must be willing to do just that. Let’s give credit where credit is due.
I’m not a politician, and I don’t come from a big corporate background where ulterior motives are a thing, and being skeptical is a skill. I’m a proud second-generation recycler that appreciates and loves this industry as much as any other automotive recycler. I want what is best for our industry. I want to have conversations with anyone and everyone that is interested in what we do. We have a great story to tell. We’re riding a new wave now. ARA will continue to represent you and protect your rights to sell ROE parts. We will continue to express the importance, not only from a safety standpoint but also an environmentally sustainable one, on the importance of having build sheet data shared with us, and we will push to make this a reality.
As recyclers, and as president of an association that represents all recyclers, trying to figure out how to write this chapter of a story that we’ve all been waiting to tell will be a challenge. We have not had many chances to work with the OEs in a positive way. We will go to the table with open minds and hearts, hoping they do the same.