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Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Are car manufacturers any closer to producing fully vegan cars?

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The vegan food market is booming, but what about cars? Which car manufacturers are making moves to appeal to the vegan consumer?

Whilst there is currently no such thing as a 100% vegan car, most manufacturers now understand that an increasing number of consumers want to at least avoid leather interiors as they look to minimise the use of animal-based materials wherever possible.

It is virtually impossible to avoid any use of animal-based material as things like animal fats are used to grease steel and glue is used during the production process. But this doesn’t dampen the fact that global players like Mini have recently announced they are ditching leather, which is good enough proof that the cruelty-free interior option is here to stay and that further developments are no doubt expected, reaching past the interiors of car cabins. PETA also announced that last year saw an all-time high for vegan car interior options.

New vs old?

range rover evoqueThe good news is if you are buying a new car, you tend to have more choice to select materials that suit your own moral fibres. Artificial leathers such as Artico (used by Mercedes) and Sensatec (used by BMW) are available as good vegan interior options. Alcantara (manmade suede) is also an industry favourite in new car models these days. In the UK, the Range Rover Evoque, Velar and Jaguar I Pace SUVs all now offer some sort of vegan interior options, which is a step forward at the more premium end of the market.

If you are buying secondhand, your options may be more limited and if you can’t source one that already has leather-free interiors, there is always the option to reupholster and veganise the car afterwards. Ford is known to do this if vegan consumers of secondhand Ford models want to swap out their vehicles’ steering wheel to not include animal skin.

Planet-saving cars

teslaEmissions are high on the agenda for many vegan drivers in the race to improve the environment. On the electric scene, if money is no object, Tesla is a strong all-rounder for the vegan driver. If you want speed, range and are willing to request the non-leather steering wheel, then the Tesla S model ticks those boxes.

Ethics aside, Tesla has been stealing the show for a while now, offering vegan interiors in all models (non-leather steering wheels have to be requested) but there are some really good contenders on the horizon. Take Volvo’s sub-brand Polestar — its Polestar 2 model has gone head-to-head with the Tesla model 3 sporting an impressive 292-mile range. This hasn’t gone unnoticed with PETA, which awarded this car with a Compassionate Business Award for its vegan-friendly interior options.

Sticking with the electric theme, the base spec on the Prius (said to be Leonardo DiCaprio’s hybrid of choice) comes with leather-free seats, but it does come with a leather steering wheel, which can be swapped out.

The Nissan Leaf is a fantastic option. It really has tried to cover all bases and thought of everything. Impressively, the Leaf is an electric car available without leather seats, gear stick and steering wheel — it has gone for what I’ll name “the interior trio”, which is currently a rare find when looking at new cars.

Arguably, the most impressive developments are happening at Fisker’s headquarters in the US. The Fisker team has been working hard on the electric car, the Fisker Ocean. The brand claims it to be the world’s most sustainable vehicle. With an interior made from plastic bottles from the ocean and abandoned fishing nets, eco-suede finishing and an energy-efficient solar sunroof, it’s definitely ticking all the right boxes with vegans hooked on to saving the planet.

Read our story on veganism and automation.

 

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Sticking with the recyclable theme, the BMW i3 is 95% recyclable, as it opts for carbon fibre parts instead of steel. It also has artificial leather seats, but the familiar story of the steering wheel being leather is applicable here, which can be swapped out on request (they have retro plastic options too).

Renault has also joined the recycling party with the Twizy, which is said to be 85% recyclable. It may be a tiny two-seater but it’s also one of the models that has chosen to offer vegan seats as standard, which is a big plus, and also has a chassis impressively made from only vegan-sourced materials.

The word is that the Mercedez-Benz Vision EQS concept car will be totally leather-free, and will use Nappa-style leather made of recycled plastic, so keep your eyes peeled for this ocean-saving car model too.

vegan friendly carsIt’s not just about interiors though when it comes to trying to opt for a vegan-friendly car. Not known to many, but the tyres on cars normally contain stearic acid (derived from animals), but Michelin is one of the leaders in offering tyres that are free from this substance.

Dunlop/Goodyear, Pirelli, and Continental all have vegan options too, but you do need to ask for them. Then there is the whole cleaning schedule that is used to keep the car looking nice. You can’t go wrong cleaning with cruelty-, toxin and allergen-free brands like Method to keep the car looking in excellent condition.

Read our report on the Kinder Cars Index for the most eco-friendly cars on the road.

Everyday players

eco friendly carsFord Fiestas have vegan interior options if you go for either the Style, Zetec or B&O Play Zetec, and as with Tesla, the steering wheel can be made vegan on special request.

Entry-level VW Golf models come with leather-free seats, gear sticks and steering wheels, but as with many manufacturers, as soon as you start to climb the model ladder, the interior becomes more and more leather-focused, which you can swap out, if that is the preference.

Luxury as we know it?

vegan cars ukThe Range Rover Velar, whilst taking the stance to offer a premium textile fabric option (sounds vegan on the face of it, right?), has replaced it with a product that contains wool. This seems like a trick missed by the research and development team if it wanted to maximise sales with the compassionate consumer. It does, however, make up for it in some respects with the Evoque model, where you have the option to swap out cowhide with innovative seat coverings made from eucalyptus.

Staying with the luxury theme, the Mercedes A-Class has leather-free Artico seats, but as with many other models, you do get stuck with a leather steering wheel, which can be switched out on request. Over at BMW, both its 3 and 5 series now use Sensatec as their vegan interior, which has quite a durable and fairy luxurious finish.

And who would have thought it? The mighty Porsche Taycan 4S has vegan leather interiors as an option, and its production team has gone one step further and used flooring made out of Econyl (taken from recycled fishing nets). Being electric, it also has the benefit of lower CO2 emissions too. With a price tag of over £80,000, it’s not one of the cheapest options out there, but it looks pretty impressive.

The limited-edition Ford Bronco is being made with bamboo interiors but it’s expected to be priced over £200,000. Bentley is innovating with the use of Grape Skins from Italian company Vegea instead of leather in the XP 100GT model (also expected to be over £200,000). It’s going to be interesting to see which other manufacturers are going to join this theme of sustainable materials. There is still so much more to play with using leather from coconuts, pineapples, mushrooms, bananas, apples, cork, etc., all of which the fashion industry has started to make good inroads with.

Even if some of these materials needed replacing or updating every now and again in our cars — surely we can handle this? In the days of most people understanding the need to recycle, you would hope that this wouldn’t be a problem.

Check out our story to Lease Fetcher’s guide to vegan cars.

Lisa Gawthorne
Lisa Gawthorne is one of the Co-Founders of vegan food marketing and distribution business Bravura Foods. Lisa’s been vegan for eighteen years and vegetarian since age six. She is a regular public speaker on the topics of veganism, athletics, business and climate change. Author of the health and fitness book Gone in 60 Minutes, Lisa is also on Team GB for her age group as a plant-powered Duathlete and is also an England and British Masters runner.