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Volvo goes vegan… almost

Sustainable leather-free upholstery for all electric Volvos sold by 2030

27 Sep 2021

SWEDISH car maker Volvo says the interior of its upcoming electric vehicles will be leather-free by 2030.

The manufacturer recently revealed its C40 Recharge SUV – a model it intends to sell exclusively online – with vegetarian-friendly upholstery and says it wants to offer bio-based and recycled materials to its customers, who increasingly demand sustainably-sourced materials.

Volvo’s announcement coincides with its aspirations of offering an all-electric vehicle range by 2030. It says it recognises customer concerns over animal welfare issues in the leather industry and the environmental impact of cattle farming, including associated deforestation.

The all-electric C4 Recharge is the first leather-free model in the brand’s portfolio but is not completely free of animal-based products.

Despite the use of materials including Nordico (a forestry by-product), recycled polyester, flax linen, recycled corks, sustainable wool, and recycled PET plastic bottles, the model uses adhesives and other animal-product-derived products common in automobile manufacturing.

“We’ve got a new generation of customers coming through, they’re far more interested in the products they buy and having an ethical story behind them. They want to understand where the materials come from,” said Volvo Car senior vice president of design, Robin Page.

“For someone who loves leather but is aware of the negative effects of leather on the environment, this is a good, modern way to capture the properties but is the right material for the future.

“Instead of leather, we will use several different material alternatives, including sustainable vinyls and textiles. Volvo Cars has the ambition that by 2025, 25 per cent of the material within our cars (by weight) will be recycled and bio-based,” Mr Page added.

Volvo Cars also says it aims to be fully carbon neutral by 2040, including the company’s supply chain. The target brings with it wholesale analysis of the company’s processes and products including the use of animal-product-derived materials.

Volvo currently offers Nappa leather and Nubuck upholstery it says is sustainably sourced in much of its model range – combustion-powered or otherwise – but says its leather-free plan will take an across-the-board approach it will begin to implement as soon as possible.

Global animal agriculture, which includes leather production, creates greater carbon-dioxide emissions than the tailpipe emissions of the world’s cars combined.

Leather itself produces a long-lasting and toxic chain of emissions due in no small part to the use of chemicals such as aluminium salts and chromium sulphate as part of the tanning process.

“We intend to reduce leather content in our cars, and this will be a gradual transition. We are conscious that consumers increasingly want leather-free materials, due to concerns over animal welfare,” emphasised Mr Page.

“We acknowledge these concerns, even though all of Volvo Cars’ current leather supply is responsibly sourced and all raw hides supplied to Volvo Cars are by-products from the beef industry.”

Volvo’s announcement follows similar announcements from Audi, Bentley, BMW, Citroen, Fiat, Jaguar Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz, MINI, Porsche, Renault, Ssangyong, Suzuki, Tesla, Toyota (Prius models only) and Volkswagen, which all offer leather-free and sustainable interior options.

Electric truck maker Rivian also offers “vegan-friendly” upholstery in its vehicles. Lexus investigated the possibility of leather-free interiors as recently as 2006 but continues to offer genuine leather upholstery across its portfolio.

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