No animals were harmed
FAKE leather is better than real leather. That’s the view of an increasing number of prestige car customers who refuse to buy cars trimmed with cowhide out of concern for animal welfare.
Imitation leather trim started as a cheap alternative to actual hide but is now sought after by some customers, especially those looking at environmentally friendly cars.
“We are seeing quite a lot of demand for non-leather materials in models like the (electric) i3, mainly from vegans and customers who are especially conscious,” says BMW Australia spokeswoman Lenore Fletcher.
BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Lexus include imitation leather material in some of their models, normally at the lower end of the line-up.
They are upfront about the fact the material is not leather and have given them brand names. BMW has Sensatec, Mercedes has Artico and Lexus has NuLux.
Benz says it has not logged a big increase in customers stipulating no leather but has recently fielded a request from a visiting celebrity, who has an arrangement to drive Mercedes cars, that the loan vehicle not include any animal leather.
All Audi models sold in Australia have some form of real leather trim fitted as standard, including the A8 limo that features headrests made from New Zealand deerskin. But the company still has an option for customers who want to avoid using animal leather.
“We have the option of having cloth trim fitted at the factory by placing a special order,” says Audi Australia spokesman, Shaun Cleary.
Some customers are worried about the welfare of the cows but others make much of how many gave their skins to line the door panels of their luxury conveyance.
Rolls Royce boasts that the interior of every Phantom it produces contains the hides of between 15 and 18 cows.
Land Rover talks about “grain-fed leather” in its latest Discovery Sport, arguing that the way cattle are fed affects the quality of the leather.
That’s true, but only in a roundabout way. The cattle are taken from paddocks and placed in a secure feedlot and fed grain for a period.
This way, any scratches from barbed wire or tree branches and such can heal (which can take 10 weeks or more).
“The end result is a much cleaner leather with a much better surface,” says Southern Hide Exports managing director Ian Stokes-Blake.
His company exports hides that are processed and used for trim in a wide range of prestige vehicles as well as for sofas, purses and shoes.
He says the demand for automotive leather has increased steadily since the 1980s, despite the advent of imitation leather, which he says is largely being pushed by car makers to save money.
Stokes-Blake says leather is a byproduct of the meat industry and that it is only natural to use it.
“The people who might not want leather for whatever reason should also consider that imitation leather is (produced from) petrochemicals, which are not great for the environment,” he says.
Trim pickings: Land Rover’s Discovery Sport; (below, from left) BMW’s non-leather i3, Rolls-Royce Phantom and Audi A8