In this work, we present a new approach to path modeling based on an extended multiple covariance criterion: system extended multiple covariance (SEMC). SEMC is suitable to measure the quality of any structural equations system. We show why SEMC may be preferred to criteria based on usual covariance of components and also to criteria based on residual sums of squares. We give a pursuit algorithm ensuring that SEMC increases and converges. When one wishes to extract more than one component per variable group, a problem arises of component hierarchy. To solve it, we define a local nesting principle of component models that makes the role of each component statistically clear. We then embed the pursuit algorithm in a more general algorithm that extracts sequences of locally nested models. We finally provide a component backward selection strategy. The technique is applied to cigarette data to model the generation of chemical compounds in smoke through tobacco combustion. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.