Historically, used car seating options have been quite limited to fabric or leather upholstery. However, that trend is changing as car makers are looking to expand into newer and more innovative upholstery materials, such as wool, silk and even replenishable vinyl that is made from unused pineapple leaves.
The vision behind such innovative fabrics is to introduce different and sustainable options for upholstery that are lighter, less expensive and tougher. Before the 1930s, the majority of fabric was extracted from renewable and natural resources. However, come 1938, that changed with the commercialisation of nylon fabric. It was the first petrochemically generated synthetic fibre. Still, despite the broad variety of options, leather still had its charm and was perceived as “high-status” and luxurious.
But now, trends seem to be changing. Leather has become so commonplace that it doesn’t feel so exclusive anymore. Moreover, with the growing popularity of veganism and unethical livestock practices, there is a growing interest in sustainable and synthetic possibilities. Rolls Royce, a brand that is known to exhaust a dozen pieces of cow hides to furnish one phantom vehicle also launched silk and wool upholstery wrapped interior in one of their concept cars; 103-EX.
Car makers are now looking for alternatives to animal hides to provide their consumers with comfort, aesthetics, performance — with a good mix of sustainability. With the advancement in materials science, it is now possible to create a truly sumptuous synthetic fabric or impart great new qualities to a dependable material.
Artificial leather is a component of vinyl and related synthetic fabrics. And while it is known for its foul gassy smell and poor durability tests in extreme weathers, car makers are now investing in better alternative leather materials. For example, Toyota’s SoftTex wins against leather in some durability tests and dries faster. Similarly, BMW, Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz have their own versions of faux leather that easily beat real leather.
Carbon fibre composite is the material of choice for supercars. Thanks to its winning combination of high strength and low weight, this intertwined miracle is used luxuriously in most supercars. Lamborghini is guilty of using carbon for more than just interior as the 2012 Aventador J Roadster’s cockpit was trimmed out of a carbon material called the CarbonSkin.
Pineapple Suede Fabric
Every year, the world produces around 25 million tonnes of pineapple. It turns out that the leaves of pineapple which would normally be discarded contain a strong flexible fibre that can be turned into a suede-like fabric that is one quarter lighter and two-thirds cheaper than real fabric. The creator of the fabric Carmen Hijosa calls the fabric Pinatex. Pinatex fabric has been successfully used to make shoes, handbags, jackets and of course, car upholstery.
Like leather, silk has also maintained a bit of a “dandy” air with its soft lustre and luxury. Where just about every other car nowadays offers leather as an interior option, silk still holds an exclusive sophistication. In Maserati’s Ermenegildo, silk is offered as interior trim in special edition models. Despite its fragile appearance, silk is actually hard-wearing.
Wool fabric is obviously derived from animal sources and may not so revolutionary, but car designers are reconsidering its use in modern applications. Material scientists have found out that wool can be woven in a piece of fabric in such a way that the two can be isolated at the end of their expiration date and can be recycled separately. The wool imparts the material temperature control whereas the synthetic fibre offers durability.
Nature has perfected a lot of substances to be used sustainably and when combined with the material science, the resulting blended material can impart the best qualities to a tried and tested product like leather, wool and silk. It’s refreshing to see the auto industry get out of their comfort zone and provide their consumers with durability, good looks as well as sustainability.