It screams oxymoron: vegan leather.
From Mustangs to Mercedes, vegan leather is ousting its real counterpart as the premium option for vehicle interiors.
Here’s what to know about this trend, what’s driving it, and which vehicles you can get with vegan leather.
What Is Vegan Leather?
Vegan leather is made from various materials, anything except animal products.
Though the word “vegan” connotes an eco-friendly dietary lifestyle, there’s not (yet) a clear distinction between the terms faux leather, synthetic leather, pleather, and vegan leather.
This means vegan leather isn’t always composed of eco-friendly materials. For example, vegan leather can be made from difficult-to-recycle plastic products. On the other hand, it might be sourced from various plants and fungi. Yes, mushroom leather is a thing.
Why Use Vegan Leather?
Whether you think it’s cruel to slay animals or want to combat climate change, vegan leather makes sense as an alternative to genuine leather.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) says that more than one billion animals are killed around the globe annually for their hides. Animal agriculture also creates CO2 emissions and uses massive amounts of land, water, and energy. Leather manufacturing often involves unsafe work conditions because tanning relies on toxic chemicals. Put simply: real leather is not sustainable.
8 Car Brands That Use Vegan Leather
Vegan leather is showing up everywhere, even in headphones.
For the automotive industry, EVs are driving the demand for vegan leather. Accordingly, Tesla leads the charge, though legacy automakers also feature vegan leather in select high-end models.
Tesla eliminated leather seats in their vehicles in 2017, though steering wheels were covered in real leather until 2019.
PETA questioned Elon Musk about the steering wheel at the 2019 Tesla Shareholder Meeting. He explained that it was difficult to replace the steering wheel with a material that would stand up to frequent contact with hands and all the dirt, oil, and grime that goes along with them.
Tesla interiors are now fully vegan.
The Rivian R1T pickup offers only vegan leather seats with options including Ocean Coast and Black Mountain.
3. Land Rover
Land Rover offers its eco-conscious buyers a material it calls Eucalyptus Melange. The Range Rover Velar and Evoque feature this material along with the Jaguar I-Pace SUVs.
Land Rover also offers Kvadrat as an option; however, this is made from wool, hence not vegan.
Ferrari offers its proprietary Mycro Prestige, a water-resistant and flameproof luxury alternative to real leather. You can even get matching Mycro Prestige golf clubs and luggage.
5. BMW & MINI
BMW Group announced that it would offer a vegan interior in 2023. Echoing Musk, BMW addressed the steering wheel and said it would “fulfill demanding criteria when it comes to feel, premium appearance and wear resistance.”
BMW expects that replacing leather with the new steering wheel surface material will reduce CO2e emissions by around 85 percent.
Both BMW and Mercedes use Deserttex®, a cactus-based material offered in select Mercedes models.
The Mercedes EQXX will feature Dessertex and other vegan materials, which it describes as “influenced by nature and made with animal-free textiles—like cactus fibers, mushrooms, and vegan silk—that provide a luxurious finish from upholstery to door handles.”
GMC’s Hummer EV and 2024 GMC Sierra EV Denali will offer vegan leather options.
Volvo plans to make all their EVs leather-free (and to only produce EVs by 2030). Right now, the C40 ReCharge is available with vegan leather.
The Future of Vegan Leather
While EVs and luxury vehicles are the front-runners of vegan leather interiors, this trend will likely take hold. So long as vegan materials hold up as well as—or better than—genuine leather, many consumers will prefer the environmentally friendly alternative.
Just as real fur has gone out of style, genuine leather interiors may soon follow the same path.