September 30, 2006


Supporting 'Transport' for the Environment and the Future - Isuzu Motors

Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.49 (September 2006)
Toward a Sustainable Japan--Corporations at Work Article Series No.51

Transportation - Supporting Our Society

Although we tend to take them for granted, logistic systems for distributing goods are an important part of the infrastructure that supports our daily lives. However widely information and communications technology is developed, some things must be transported to users; raw materials are delivered to factories, daily commodities to supermarkets, and food to homes. Trucks are one of the main means for transporting these items. Because they travel long distances every day, trucks need to perform well in terms of durability, safety, economy, and environmental protection.

One example of a high-performance truck is the recently popular compressed natural gas (CNG) truck. Burning CNG emits less carbon dioxide (CO2) than gasoline, and does not emit sulfur oxide (SOx) or particulate matter (PM). Elf, a small truck manufactured by Isuzu, occupies nearly 80 percent of the Japanese CNG truck market. This article introduces Isuzu Motors, which aims to be a global leader in commercial vehicle and diesel engine markets under the slogan of "Supporting 'Transport' for the Environment and the Future."

What Makes a Diesel Engine Different from a Gasoline Engine?

Isuzu Motors is Japan's oldest automaker, tracing its roots back to 1916. Isuzu Motors's mission is to carry and move things around the world. From the beginning, it has focused on developing and manufacturing advanced commercial vehicles and diesel engines. It manufactures mainly buses and large, middle-sized, and small trucks, and sells them in more than 100 countries worldwide. It also produces diesel engines in Japan, Thailand, Poland and North America and supplies them to local automakers. In fiscal 2005, the company produced about 620,000 vehicles and about 1.14 million diesel engines, with sales of 1.58 trillion yen (about U.S.$13.7 billion) on a consolidated basis; about 60 percent of this was in overseas markets.

How is a diesel engine different from a gasoline engine? While the life expectancy of a typical gasoline engine is about 100,000 to 300,000 kilometers, a diesel engine lasts three times as long - about 300,000 to more than a million kilometers - thanks to a robust structure that is durable even when carrying heavy loads and burning highly compressed gas. It also has higher thermal efficiency and requires less fuel, thus reducing CO2 emissions by 20 to 40 percent. In addition, while automotive diesel engines usually use diesel fuel and marine engines heavy oil, they can also potentially use a wide variety of fuels, such as refined waste cooking oil and vegetable oil. On the other hand, its problems are that it emits more nitrogen oxide (NOx), particulate matter (PM) and black smoke and causes more vibration than a gasoline engine, requiring measures to alleviate these problems.

Isuzu Motors is trying to measure and reduce the environmental impacts of its products throughout the vehicle life cycle, from material procurement to the recycling and disposal stages. It has also launched a system of consolidated environmental management involving domestic and overseas manufacturing companies as well as domestic dealers, and conducts various environmental activities such as CO2 emissions reduction, zero emission, management of regulated pollutants, and recycling. One of its most important efforts is to reduce environmental impacts during product use. This is because, for example, in a vehicle or engine life cycle, CO2 emissions are by far the highest during use: specifically, procurement accounts for 2.9 percent, production 1.6 percent, use 95.5 percent, and disposal and recycling 0.03 percent of CO2 emissions. Accordingly, the company has been putting a great deal of effort into reducing emissions and improving fuel economy in order to reduce CO2 emissions, and has been making improvements in both the hard and soft aspects of its operations.
Isuzu's Environmental Impact and Activities:

"Hard" Strategies -- Developing Fuel-efficient, Clean Engines and Vehicles

Let's take a look at Isuzu's strategies for improving their "hardware." Isuzu calls its basic product development concept "SEE Technology," which stands for Safety, Economy and Environment (SEE) Technology. In other words, the company aims to create a new corporate value system aimed at successfully balancing safety, economy and the reduction of environmental impacts. Based on this concept, the company has improved fuel efficiency by about 40 percent in the last 10 years, through the integration of engine technologies, such as electronic technology that precisely controls combustion repeating at intervals on the order of one thousandth of a second, together with related systems, and vehicle technology, such as friction reduction and improved aerodynamics, while seeking lighter, smaller and more efficient engines.

With regard to exhaust gases, Japan's New Long-Term Exhaust Emission Regulations enacted in 2005 established the world's strictest regulations: in comparison with 100 percent for the base year of 1973 when no regulations applied, NOx levels must be reduced to 12 percent and particulate matter (PM) to 3 percent. Naturally, Isuzu's diesel engines meet these requirements.

Isuzu is also actively developing clean energy vehicles. With regard to the CNG vehicles mentioned above, the company has developed product lines ranging from compact Elf models to middle-sized trucks and city buses. Launched in April 2005, the new Elf CNG-MPI meets diesel vehicle standards under the New Long-Term Emissions Regulations, reducing NOx emissions by 80 percent compared to the standards and emitting almost no PM or black smoke, according to the company. Diesel hybrid vehicles have also been launched that feature further reductions in CO2 emission and improved exhaust emission performance. Hoping to make use of diesel engines' fuel compatibility, another important theme for Isuzu is to develop engines compatible with biomass-fuels, dimethyl ether (DME), and gas-to-liquid (GTL) fuels.

"Soft" Strategies -- Advising Customers on Fuel-efficient Driving Techniques

Isuzu is also taking various "soft" initiatives to reduce the environmental impacts of vehicles in use. The most outstanding is an online driver education program on fuel-efficient driving called Mimamori-kun ("mimamori" means "watch over to protect" in Japanese.) This program collects vehicle operation data in real time and provides truck operators and cargo carriers with advice on energy-conservative driving. This advanced operation information system was developed to meet the needs of a delivery service company that uses Isuzu's vehicles, and helps it achieve benefits such as improved fuel economy and more efficient driving control systems. Making use of packet telecommunications technology and the Internet, the Mimamori center retrieves real-time operation data from individual vehicles, analyzes them, and provides each vehicle with operation information such as fuel efficiency, amounts of CO2, NOx, and PM emissions, location, and driving information.

Diagnostic items provided could include, for example, "For idling time, you got 2 points out of 5. Fuel consumption for 5 minutes of idling amounts to as much as about 2 percent of your total. Care should be taken to decrease long periods of idling when taking a break;" "Concerning rpms (revolutions per minute) when up-shifting, you got 2 points out of 5. Your average rpm is 2,000 rpm; this is too much. The ideal value is less than 1,540 rpm. You should try to up-shift earlier, by about 300 rpm in order to achieve significantly improved fuel efficiency."

As of June 2006, the total number of vehicles registered for this service has reached 7,000, about three times more than last year. In December 2005, the Mimamori-kun Online Service was awarded the Land, Infrastructure, and Transportation Minister's Prize in the second annual Eco-products Awards. Mr. Noboru Maezono, in charge of planning the system, said, "We think we won the award because the system was planned not only to provide information but to offer solutions for improved driving techniques."
"Mimamori-kun" Online Service

Raising Every Employee's Awareness

In addition to these activities, Isuzu is now deeply committed to raising all its employees' awareness. "For example, although people know global warming is one of the biggest and most urgent challenges for humankind, in reality most do not feel compelled to do anything about it. As global citizens, all of us should take action, even in our daily lives," commented Mr. Etsuo Kamijo, Manager of the Eco Planning Group at the company's Program Management Department. As part of such efforts, in June the company gave all employees a booklet entitled "Eco-Actions in Daily Life," which summarizes what they can do to save energy at home. This take-home booklet lists some 50 eco-actions that employees and their families can perform and keep records of, encouraging them to engage in activities aimed at ameliorating global warming.

Starting this year, under the slogan "Eco-Commuting" the company has been collecting data on employees' commuting behavior and encouraging them to use public transportation or to walk to and from work. Mr. Takashi Kanazawa, Leader of the Eco Planning Group, added, "If continued steadily, even simple activities will stimulate new ideas and produce significant effects in each workplace." Apparently, they are already seeing some positive effects. He continued, "For example, one of our manufacturing plants has created an action plan called 'Stop Idling at the Plant,' in which production machinery that is not in actual use but has been 'idling' for a certain period will be turned off. This type of approach, which is rather new to us, has already saved a lot of energy."

Toward the Future

For Isuzu, a global company working toward building a sustainable world, it is a great challenge to advertise its eco-friendly products in the markets of developing countries where environmental awareness is sometimes low. Although the company continuously seeks to increase fuel efficiency and reduce exhaust emissions in its products for both domestic and foreign markets, it often faces unfavorable conditions, especially in developing country markets. While regulations vary among countries, eco-friendly vehicles can be too expensive for customers in developing countries. Furthermore, higher sulfur content in the diesel fuel used in these countries necessitates additional measures to deal with its different properties as well as with safety issues.

Despite these challenges, however, Isuzu President Yoshinori Ida's vision of the company's global role is quite positive, as shown in the following statement. "Regarding my own responsibility, I frequently suggest to government officials in developing countries that they should pursue more aggressive environmental regulation because air pollution is a serious problem in their countries. I think Isuzu has a responsibility to support such countries with environmentally-friendly products that provide universal value" (quoted from the company's Environmental and Social Report 2005). We look forward to watching this company's endeavors to achieve the goal expressed by its slogan: Supporting 'Transport' for the Environment and the Future

(Staff Writer Kazunori Kobayashi)