The tone of society is set by media power brokers. Embedded within the corporate and financial infrastructure, the media issues signals that tell us what is desirable, virtuous, normal, and expected. The case of Greta Thunberg propelled onto the world’s scene by the entire media-finance-government complex, tells us that sustainability is being institutionalized. Microsoft Sustainability Calculator is just one of the many tools, and metrics businesses will have to use shortly to be a part of the financial ecosystem. Others will be shunned or absorbed.
In light of this, you can expect sustainability to sweep over luxury cars as well. Real leather, once a signal for high-end quality and elevated social status, is quickly becoming a signal for animal cruelty and pollution. The same goes for plastics and gas fuel. Electric vehicle companies, like Tesla, will have to take special care to use sustainable materials that are easily recycled, unless they want their brand besmirched by environmentally conscious customers.
The question is, can recyclable materials offer the same luxurious look to the interior of exclusive cars?
For the longest time, before the invention of motor vehicles, going back to aristocratic horse carriages, the interior for the affluent was lush with high-end wood and staid leather. Let’s review what novel materials various luxury car manufacturers have in store for us and ascertain if they pose a viable alternative.
Mercedes-Benz, as the iconic luxury car manufacturer, is leading the sustainability charge with the material they call Dinamica. This is a suede-textured fabric manufactured from abandoned clothing items and recycled plastics from bottles. Dinamica will serve as a cover seat in Mercedes-Benz’s future luxury car lineups. As for harder surfaces, Karuun will be there to substitute the legendary Mercedes interior that exudes high social status. Karuun is made out of a compressed timber – rattan – which is harvested sustainably. Karuun will be deployed on the dashboard and the floors.
For some reason, car manufacturers call some materials “vegan,” which is confusing if you consider this label is exclusively used for the type of food consumption. Nonetheless, Bentley is also experiencing with one such material they dubbed Vegea – a vegan simulacrum of real leather made out of grape seeds, skins, and stalks. Bentley also adopted a uniquely sustainable approach to creating luxurious dashboards. They come from lumber collapsed thousands of years ago, which were then preserved by bogs. This way, Bentley abstains from cutting down precious live trees.
Volvo is implementing its own brand of sustainability with its high-end electric car lineup called Polestar. This counter to Tesla Model 3 has carpets made out of recycled fishing nets, lest we forget about the ravaging fish industry as it culls marine life to extinction. Polestar’s seat covers are processed with the help of 3D knitting, combining fabric to such level of precision that all waste is removed. Polestar’s harder surfaces come from Swiss Bcomp to substitute plastics with flax-derived composites. Lastly, Volvo’s Polestar holds an interesting solution for seat inserts. They are made out of cork-derived vinyl material in various patterns reminiscent of camping and mountaineering gear.
All of these novel materials not only contribute to providing a sustainable future, but they also reduce costs and make the vehicle lighter in most cases, which reduces the need to drain precious battery charge, or gas in hybrid cars. According to Per Martensson, in charge of Bcomp’s sales operations, novel materials for interior panels alone can reduce the weight by up to 50%.
As the sustainability drive continues to be trumpeted across all media centers, car manufacturers are not worried about the low number of early adopters. On the contrary, they are merely meeting the demand.
Modern material processing technology has come a long way, as we can see from 3D knitting processes. However, not only exotic materials will take the brunt of sustainability. Simple and common materials such as
ceramics, glass, hemp, and some specific types of paper are currently under consideration. Still, Bentley customers expect an exceedingly high standard of quality, so it will take some marketing to alter the perception of glass, flax, stalks, and ceramics surpassing the status of Madrone, Vavona, walnut, and cherry wood.
With that said, no matter how much recyclable materials you introduce in a car, the best estimate is that merely 6% - 25% of a car’s material has an impact on its carbon footprint. The far more important sustainability factor remains as it always has – the type of fuel a car uses. It is not yet clear if the energy used up – carbon footprint - to manufacture batteries is lesser than using conventional gas to power cars. Nobody ever said to a scientist directly, “write my paper to conclude this and this.” Likewise, nobody ever said that everything has to be perfect from the very beginning.