Seatbelts and seat covers made from recycled PET bottles are now relatively common. You’ll find them in both the Renault Zoe and the Polestar 2. The recent Fiat 500 and Panda hybrids were the first production vehicles to feature a seat trim containing Seaquel yarn, which is made from recycled waste, including fishing nets and plastics, recovered from the sea.
It’s not just the more noticeable materials that car firms are looking to switch. BMW, for instance, has been evaluating natural materials for use in the construction of interior door panels, including a foam made from hemp fibres. Goldhofer says: “It’s got several benefits beyond just using less CO2 to produce. It’s lighter, which helps to make the car more efficient, and because the natural fibres are grown, it serves as a carbon sink: it absorbs CO2 while it’s growing, so it can be carbon negative.”
Similarly, Polestar is evaluating Bcomp’s Powerribs and Amplitex materials for use in future interior panels. Both materials are made from flax composite, which is often grown during crop rotation so it can be produced without competing with food crops. It’s also lighter and stronger than traditional car panel materials.
Some newer car firms including Polestar have committed to leather-free interiors, but it remains a popular option for customers of premium brands such as Bentley. Although the Crewe marque is looking at alternatives, Mulder says the use of leather “is a key part of our brand”.
However, Bentley is looking to prove that the leather it uses can be part of a responsible, sustainable approach, with all of its leather sourced from a handful of European manufacturers where the hides are by-products of the food industry. Bentley says all of its suppliers meet the high production standards set by the Leather Working Group (of which Bentley is a member) and it has refined its cutting process to maximise the use of each hide.