More and more car manufactures are considering how their vehicles impact mankind and the environment. Almost parallel to the rise of the electric car, vegan car interiors are emerging. How far away is an entirely vegan car and to what extent can this reduce carbon emissions and promote reuse?
Tekst Jens Holierhoek
Old wine in new bottles
Today’s trendy artificial leather interiors are hardly a new phenomenon. Mercedes-Benz has allowed its customers to opt for artificial leather upholstery since the 180 Ponton in the 1950s. And what about Alcantara, which features so heavily in luxury models? This suede substitute consists of a blend of polyurethane, polyester and micro fibres.
Vegetarians are yesterday’s news. If you truly care about animals and the environment, you go vegan, avoiding meat, fish and all other animal products. Even cheese, milk, eggs and honey are out of the question. And you can’t have a leather jacket hanging from the coat rack either. This vegan trend is now also making an appearance in car interiors. Whether you’re buying a new Porsche Taycan, a Tesla Model 3 or Model Y, or the new Range Rover Evoque, a vegan interior is now standard, or at least a very normal option. Usually, these cars feature faux-leather interiors, although brands tend to dub their materials with high-tech names of their own. BMW has Sensatec, for instance, while Nissan has Sofilez, Audi has Climatex, Porsche has Race-Tex and Mercedes-Benz has ARTICO/MB-Tex. According to analysts, the total market for synthetic leather – for shoes, furniture and car interiors – will be worth $45 billion by 2025.
The switch to faux is badly needed. The United Nations estimates that global cattle farming – including leather production – has higher carbon emissions than all cars combined
The switch to faux is badly needed. The United Nations estimates that global cattle farming – including leather production – has higher carbon emissions than all cars combined. It is no coincidence that vegan interiors are commonplace in fully electric cars: if your direct carbon emissions are zero, you don’t want to start producing carbon indirectly by equipping your vehicles with a leather interior. Porsche, for instance, claims that the vegan Race-Tex interior in its electric Taycan cuts carbon emissions by a massive 80 percent. As an added bonus, Race-Tex is made of recycled polyester, making it a lot lighter than leather, cheaper to produce and easier to recycle.
Audi, Porsche’s VW Group sibling, has recently introduced its electrically powered e-tron range, focusing specifically on the smart use of materials. Take the upcoming Audi Q4 e-tron, for instance, with seats made of recycled plastic. The e-tron GT, which, like the Q4, will hit the dealerships in 2020, can be ordered with an interior made of synthetic leather and recycled microfibres. The carpeting is made of Econyl, a material made of fishing nets that is also used by other brands. The Aicon concept uses yet another set of materials, featuring seats upholstered in Climatex. This fabric consists of a polyester upper layer and a woolen base layer and is very easy to recycle because these two layers are easily separated from each other.
Porsche is still hesitant to tout its interiors as being entirely vegan. According to Porsche designer Thorsten Klein, even synthetic materials may have been treated with animal products. Aside from the interior, there are several other reasons that the vegan claim is not an easy one to make. Most cars contain stearic acid, a by-product of cattle, and some adhesives and liquids also contain other animal by-products.
Porsche claims that the vegan Race-Tex interior in its electric Taycan cuts carbon emissions by a massive 80 percent
Mazda recently introduced its first electric model, the MX-30, a crossover SUV with an almost entirely vegan interior. The centre console is decked in cork. Although no trees need to be felled for cork in the first place, as all it takes is to remove the bark, Mazda goes one step further by using leftover cork obtained from cork stopper producers. After all, Mazda was originally founded as Toyo Cork Kogyo Co, Ltd in 1920. By using residual cork, the Japanese company manages to kill several birds with one stone, aiding circularity whilst using a cheap, light material. Not to mention its dampening properties and warm appearance.
The list of reused materials found in the interior of the Mazda MX-30 goes on and on. The top of the door panels is upholstered with fabric made from recycled PET bottles, with artificial leather and recycled yarn also making an appearance. The artificial leather is produced with water instead of organic solvents, reducing its environmental impact. In addition, Mazda emphasises how it explicitly focused on the environmental aspects of its new electric drivetrain, from the extraction of raw materials to ways to recycle the battery.
By using residual cork, Mazda has managed to kill several birds with one stone, aiding circularity whilst using a cheap, light material
In the near future, Mazda and other car manufacturers are set to introduce ever more fully or partially vegan interiors, packed with recycled materials. Consumers demand it, it has clear advantages and it fits within the long-term vision of car manufacturers. In 2017, the Mazda Motor Corporation launched its Sustainable Zoom-Zoom 2030 plan, charting its course for the next decade. Terms such as people, the environment and society feature heavily. “The new plan reflects Mazda’s commitment to driving pleasure, to which our cars owe their appeal, in order to solve human, social and environmental issues,” says the brand. What’s more, these promising words are accompanied by specific goals: “Average well-to-wheel emissions must be reduced by 50 percent by 2030 compared to 2010, and by as much as 90 percent by 2050.” Vegan cars, full of recycled materials, will certainly make a valuable contribution.