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20 June 2017

Materials in Motion: Leather

By Vivek ShahVivek Shah
There are more leather-clad cars now than ever, but are consumers starting to look elsewhere?

Today, leather is universally accepted as the material of choice for luxury vehicle interiors.

Not only do most luxury vehicles come with leather seats, other components of the interior such as the dashboard and steering wheel are often surfaced with a leather covering.

Check out the other parts of this series:

Materials in Motion: Glass
Materials in Motion: Carbon Fibre
Materials in Motion: Metal
Materials in Motion: Leather
Materials in Motion: Wood

But how has leather achieved this perceived status as a luxury material, and can it maintain this perception in the future?

The Lexus LC500’s interior features leather seats and a leather clad dashboard. The Lexus LC500’s interior features leather seats and a leather clad dashboard.

The answer to the first part of this question is similar to why wood is used in luxury cars today. Namely, leather has a provenance as the preferred material for high-end makers of goods such as lounges, shoes, handbags and luggage.

It is intrinsically soft, whilst also being durable, water resistant and able to be dyed in an almost limitless variety of colours. These inherent virtues make it suitable for a wide variety of purposes and the material of choice for trendsetting brands such as Prada that confer a prestige status upon the material.

Budget models such as the 2017 Ssangyong Korando offer leather seating as well. Budget models such as the 2017 Ssangyong Korando offer leather seating as well.

With luxury automotive manufacturers often having a similar clientele to high-end fashion houses, the status of leather as a luxurious material has been transferred over to the automotive industry.

In today’s automotive industry, the use of leather has expanded from luxury manufacturers to mainstream, and increasingly, budget brands as well.

Whilst both the Korando and Bentley Mulsanne (pictured here) offer leather seats, the difference in quality is obvious. Whilst both the Korando and Bentley Mulsanne (pictured here) offer leather seats, the difference in quality is obvious.

To differentiate themselves, prestige manufacturers now offer higher grades of leather that focus on retaining the material’s natural texture rather than offering an over-processed feel. For example, to produce expensive semi-aniline and Nappa leather, the original animal hide must be unscarred and of high quality as a more organic, transparent dye and coating is used to ensure the hide’s natural feel is retained.

The new Range Rover Velar offers the option of a premium cloth interior as an alternative to leather. The new Range Rover Velar offers the option of a premium cloth interior as an alternative to leather.

Increasingly, however, consumers are concerned with the ethical issue of slaughtering animals for interior material. In response, automakers such as Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz and even Tesla have introduced non-animal luxury options that could eventually displace leather as the upmarket interior material of choice.

This ARTICO material used by Mercedes-Benz in the CLA Shooting Brake, is another option for those wanting the feel and texture of leather whilst avoiding ethical concerns. This ARTICO material used by Mercedes-Benz in the CLA Shooting Brake, is another option for those wanting the feel and texture of leather whilst avoiding ethical concerns.

Thus, whilst leather has been the pre-eminent material of use for luxury car interiors, it faces an uncertain future as new materials are introduced that can replicate its feel and luxury status with higher ethical standards.

What's your preferred interior material? Tell us about it in the comments