A constantly growing world economy, sustained by high consumption levels both in developed and emerging economies, raises concerns over the detrimental consumption of the earth’s natural resources, coupled with associated environmental impacts and impending resource shortages [1
]. In response, several governmental and supra-governmental initiatives have taken form over the last decades with the aim to increase resource efficiency in the economy and reduce adverse environmental and socio-economic impacts [4
]. The political consensus in the European Union (EU) is gradually shifting towards a vision of transforming the current resource extractive “linear” economic system to a system of higher resource efficiency and intensive material re-use—the so-called circular economy. The introduction of new policies, intervening at all life-cycle stages of a product, are imperative for the transition to a circular economy in Europe [6
]. EU and national waste policies have contributed to some extent in increasing the recycling of materials in the economy [8
]. However, an important aspect, which has been less prominent in legislation, concerns the preservation of the functionality and economic value of products or components, rather than just mere material recovery [9
Remanufacturing constitutes an industrial process by which used or end-of-life products can retain the same quality and functionality as new products and can be awarded a similar warranty period [10
]. Remanufacturing is broadly defined by Östlin [11
], building on research by Sundin [12
], as “an industrial process whereby products, referred to as cores, are restored to useful life. During this process, the core passes through a number of operations, e.g., inspection, disassembly, part reprocessing, reassembly, and testing, to ensure it meets the desired product standards”. Historically, there has been extensive research on a wide array of operational aspects of remanufacturing, particularly in the field of technical, organisational, and supply chain aspects. More precisely, previous research has analysed topics such as operational issues that determine the cost-effectiveness of remanufacturing operations, including product design in relation to disassembly efforts [13
], the optimization of material recovery planning [14
], lead time scheduling and floor plan control [15
], product and parts inventory management [16
], and the design of reverse supply networks for the acquisition of cores [18
]. Concerning the specific area of automotive parts remanufacturing, previous research has looked into production process improvements [21
], stabilization of reverse flows for lean remanufacturing operations [22
], effective material planning [23
], optimal product pricing decision analysis [24
], potential demand forecasting [26
], quality assessment [27
], and consumer perceptions of remanufactured parts in America and Asia [28
The rich literature analysing various aspects of remanufacturing has identified a multitude of barriers to effective and efficient remanufacturing operations. The most widely identified barriers include: (1) the effective collection of cores by means of an efficient reverse logistics network and appropriate collection strategies [20
]; (2) uncertainty in the quality and quantity, the timing of arrival of collected cores [31
], and achieving a predictable and steady flow of cores [32
]; (3) the development of an efficient remanufacturing process due to the high variability of collected products, which complicates disassembly and assembly processes [33
], and the product design, which most often does not favour remanufacturing [34
]; (4) the lead time of remanufacturing operations is not standardized and it becomes almost impossible to estimate accurately [31
]; (5) quite often there is a lack of transparency and detailed information on the technical parameters of the original product from the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) [35
]; (6) user acceptance of remanufactured products [36
]; (7) legislative barriers, particularly pertaining to intellectual property rights and waste [37
]; (8) OEMs resistance to remanufacturing, since the motivation is not always clear, especially when remanufacturing may affect negatively the sales of new products [40
]—a phenomenon also called “cannibalization of new product sales by remanufactured products” [41
]; (9) lack of systematic knowledge on planning and performing remanufacturing as a viable business model configuration [42
The benefits of remanufacturing include a lower price of products, saving of material and energy resources, and the creation of new jobs as remanufacturing is generally a labour-intensive process [36
]. Additionally, remanufacturing contributes to waste prevention and a higher environmental consciousness among consumers [43
]. A study by Kim et al. [44
] illustrated the multiple benefits of remanufacturing, which in the case of a remanufactured alternator can reduce material and energy consumption by one fifth and one seventh, respectively, in comparison to a newly manufactured alternator. Sakao and Sundin [42
] developed a theoretical analysis of the remanufacturing system and its constituent components, namely, the core acquisition process, the remanufacturing process, and the sales process, by using the methods of cause and effect analysis and means-ends analysis to derive to a concrete set of practical success factors for remanufacturing. Their findings indicate that success factors include (1) addressing product and component value, (2) having a customer-oriented operation, (3) having an efficient core acquisition, (4) obtaining the correct information, and (5) having the right staff competence.
As illustrated above, a key aspect of improving the remanufacturing system as a whole lies in the investigation of the sales segment of remanufacturing and more specifically on the interface of customer-oriented operations and the configuration of an appropriate business model to respond to customer needs [42
]. To achieve that, a more nuanced insight on the consumer perception of remanufactured components is considered beneficial [29
]. Therefore, the objective of the present study is to investigate consumers’ perceptions in Sweden regarding remanufactured automotive parts. Despite the wide outreach of remanufacturing operations in a global scale, research on consumers’ perceptions of remanufactured products has been limited [46
]. Researchers have recognised that consumers’ perceptions of remanufactured products can have a significant effect on their behaviour and can influence their purchasing decisions. Perception is the way people can understand their surroundings. Peoples’ attitudes and preferences towards an object are highly affected by the way they perceive things [29
]. This contribution follows closely the extensive investigation of consumers’ perceptions of remanufactured auto parts by Matsumoto et al. [29
], and applies their established methodology in an effort to uncover relevant findings in a European context. Previous studies by Matsumoto et al. [28
] have focused in US and Asian markets, but the European perspective is still missing from similar literature regarding remanufactured auto parts.
The choice to focus on remanufactured automotive parts is considered for a variety of reasons. The focus on the automotive industry in this research is due to its long history in remanufacturing, which accounts roughly for two-thirds of global remanufacturing operations [51
]. Moreover, automobiles contain several high value and durable components, which can easily be redistributed and re-used among consumers due to the wide co-existence of first- and second-hand markets for auto parts. Many automotive components have high potential for remanufacturing [52
], and therefore a great potential for resource efficiency and energy savings exists in the process of auto parts remanufacturing. Previous studies on remanufactured automotive parts have focused on the operational challenges and drivers of OEMs [42
] and small- and medium-sized independent remanufacturers [35
]. Very few studies have focused on consumer perceptions of remanufactured parts, mostly in the US and Asian markets [28
], while a European perspective is still missing from literature regarding this topic.
Sweden is selected as a case study due to its clustered remanufacturing industry, mainly connected to major OEMs in the automotive sector. The largest car manufacturer in Sweden reports that their remanufacturing operations currently covers 15 percent of vehicle spare parts supply. Due to decreased raw material extraction and energy used for remanufacturing compared to new production, the remanufacturing of spare parts saved 542 tonnes of steel and 265 tonnes of aluminium in 2017; this corresponds to nearly 3,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emission reduction [53
]. Due to these reported benefits, OEMs in Sweden are keen to expand their operations and increase remanufacturing activities; however, an important aspect that needs to be taken into consideration is the consumers’ perception.
This contribution aims to generate new knowledge that responds to industry concerns over consumers’ acceptance and purchase intention of remanufactured auto parts and propose ways to increase confidence and potentially market share of remanufactured over new components. The remainder of this article is organised as follows. In Section 2
, the theoretical underpinnings of this investigation are fleshed out, briefly determining the factors that affect consumers’ purchase intentions and the influence of information provision and quality certification. Section 3
details the applied methodology and Section 4
presents the results and discusses the findings. Finally, Section 5
contains the conclusions of this study with a number of recommendations for future research.
5. Conclusions and Recommendations
The consumption of material resources is constantly increasing, despite efforts to increase resource efficiency in industry, especially in emerging economies. In Europe, the EU has adopted several strategic plans towards the direction of reducing resources consumption, aiming at higher resource security and economic sustainability of its manufacturing industries. Diffusion of remanufacturing is important for mitigating the increased resource consumption and for easing the pressures on the natural environment. However, to scale up remanufacturing operations, it is critical for consumers to accept and demand remanufactured products.
This article presented the results of a survey of Swedish consumers, analysing their knowledge of remanufactured auto parts and their perception on associated benefits and risks, which are factors contributing to their overall purchase intention. The results revealed that Swedish consumers have limited knowledge about remanufactured auto parts. Nevertheless, they do recognise the benefits of using remanufactured auto parts without showing a significant risk aversion in their purchase decision, being less preoccupied by the risks entailed in buying a remanufactured product. This last result comes into conflict with much of the existing literature that identifies consumers’ perceived risks about remanufactured products to be the defining reason for the lack of diffusion of remanufacturing [28
]. Therefore, further studies on this topic are needed to identify the underlying reasons for this behaviour of the Swedish consumer. In the current study, the sample of the survey consisted of 203 individuals, which might be a limitation in the representativeness of the results. A larger sample, therefore, might be needed to extract statistically safer conclusions.
Based on the previous literature which identified lack of information and perceived risks as major barriers for the upscale of remanufacturing operations, the survey was designed to include also consumers’ opinion on potential measures to bridge the identified gap in knowledge, by providing information and quality certification of remanufactured auto parts. The results showed that although the Swedish consumers trust a quality certification scheme for remanufactured auto parts—preferably set up by an industry association—that would not be the most critical factor in their purchase decision. High trust in the information of the certification label did not translate into equally high purchase intention of certified remanufactured auto parts in the survey results.
Therefore, it becomes obvious that the introduction of quality certification for remanufactured auto parts has the potential to increase the uptake of remanufactured products, but it is not sufficient. Making quality related information visible to consumers does not always translate directly to altered consumer behaviour [70
]. Therefore, to capitalise on the information contained in a certification instrument, it is recommended that a combination of policy interventions can be introduced, as for instance the linking of the quality certification to public procurement requirements for a specific product group [77
]. Public or private (business) procurement has the potential to influence the demand of remanufactured auto parts and send a clear signal in the market, by setting specific requirements on market actors. A comprehensive policy mix that could influence the upscale of remanufacturing operations would include: (a) a constant quota of available remanufactured auto parts vs. new parts in the stock of spare parts of OEMs (as for instance 15% in the case of Volvo Cars [53
]) with a gradual increase, thus incentivising not only remanufacturing operations but also the effective collection of cores; (b) a quality certification scheme of remanufactured auto parts, ideally by a remanufacturing industry association; (c) clear criteria in procurement administrative processes that prioritise the use of remanufactured auto parts, which coupled with the lower pricing of remanufactured products would become the obvious choice for any procuring authority; and (d) an optional eco-label documenting the environmental benefits of each remanufactured auto part.
Although this article measures the factors influencing the purchase intention of individuals, it is inexorably connected with action at administrative or business level as well. Municipalities or business entities can be expected not to have negative preconceptions towards quality or reliability of remanufactured products as private individuals may have. However, a recent study by Wasserbaur and Milios [78
] in Swedish municipalities revealed that it is not uncommon that selection bias and user preferences of the procurement officers occur during the drafting of tender specifications, as procurers are more likely to prioritise/prescribe the utility or the product they are familiar with. This is also reflected in research by Sporrong and Bröchner [79
] suggesting that procurement officers hold individual preferences, which are mirrored in their procedures for procurement. Therefore, the study of individuals’ perceptions of remanufactured products is of the highest importance, and further studies would be beneficial for understanding consumers’ attitudes and influencing consumer’s acceptance towards remanufactured products.