The new generation of eco-responsible luxury cars

Recycled and sustainable materials are increasingly found in the cabins of the world’s most luxurious cars, writes Toby Hagon.

What do wine corks, plastic water bottles and fishing nets have in common? They are all used to create fresh and innovative materials for the green cars of the future.

Where once the default for luxury cars was leather and wood with generous chrome trim. These days, however, expectations in the evolving luxury space are much broader. This is especially true when it comes to young buyers. The next generation is increasingly concerned about the source of materials and their impact on the environment.

Automotive designers are gradually turning to sustainable and recycled materials. Not just for a look that stands out visually, but for a design that puts tactility and quality first. Sustainability is at the heart of the green movement, going far beyond electric drives.

The Audi e-Tron GT has Econyl floor mats and carpet

The ecological cars of the future

MINI embraced the idea in its latest concepts, enlisting fashion guru Paul Smith to reinvent its cars. Hot on the heels of announcing that it would be phasing out leather trim from its cars, MINI challenged Smith to create a one-of-a-kind show car that adheres to themes of simplicity, transparency and sustainability.

“Paul asked key questions early on in the design process with his non-automotive and therefore novel perspective,” says Oliver Heimer, Head of MINI Design, of the MINI Strip concept. The Strip dispenses with many plastic components often used as trim, enhancing the structure of the vehicle.

“Together I think we’ve created something really unique, going back to basics, paring things down and stripping the car of it,” Smith says of the industrial look. There’s cork on the doors and dashboard, and recycled rubber floor mats. The door handles use a climbing rope. It’s the next evolution of the British brand, which also created the Vision Urbanaut. This futuristic mover eliminates chrome. Instead, it focuses on warmer finishes and knitted textiles, “which combine coziness and quality with softness and comfort,” Smith says.

More leather? In search of ecological alternatives

Rolls-Royce, Bentley and Porsche have no intention of getting rid of leather, at least not yet. Neither will Aston Martin, according to design boss Marek Reichman, who believes there will “always be options”. But Reichmann sees the market changing. And in a bid to keep cars attractive, designers are increasingly turning to the world of fashion for inspiration. It indicates that Hermès offers leather-free alternatives, including one made from mushrooms.

“We’ll be there very, very soon,” Reichman says of the shift to sustainable materials. “We have various materials being tested in the lab.” This is indicative of an industry that increasingly caters to those who prefer materials that have nothing to do with animal products.

VOLVO design boss Robin Page says the change is consumer-driven. “We see that the ethics of our customers are changing a bit. This next generation is much more interested in modern materials that are durable and animal-free. »

Porsche now offers a leather-free interior for its Taycan electric eco-cars. It sells for more than leather, which can always be chosen. You’re here was the first to embrace the non-leather alternatives, replacing them with something that clearly has an artificial flavor.

Leather-free interior of the Porsche Taycan
Leather-free interior of the Porsche Taycan

But technology-focused buyers of the electric vehicle pioneer clearly don’t see that as a negative. In fact, they embrace the vegan sales pitch. And luxury newcomer Genesis emphasizes durability for its radical Concept X. It uses recycled leather for the steering wheel and airbag cover.

Eco-friendly cars: shifting gears to sustainable materials

Many modern materials are driven by world-embracing waste issues, including fishing nets and drinking bottles. The upcoming Audi e-Tron GT, for example, is one of many cars to feature Econyl floor mats and carpeting. This is produced from recycled nylon fibers sourced from everything from fishing nets to carpet waste.

In addition to providing a cheap and steady supply of raw materials, the potential cleansing of part of the planet on its way to a new look has a distinct marketing ring. PET plastic beverage bottles, for example, are now readily used for seat covers and carpets. Although it was given more palatable names, such as Puls in an Audi and Kvadrat in a Land Rover. With the right processing, customers would never know the materials are made from recycled plastic. In a Volvo EV, for example, the carpets are made entirely of PET bottles, except for the coloring. An eco-friendly car can use plastic from hundreds of recycled bottles. Volvo’s spin-off brand of electric vehicles The North Star also embraces sustainability. It uses recycled plastics to create stronger, lighter materials that can then reduce energy consumption.

Polestar uses recycled plastics

Forward to greener times

Meanwhile, land rover turns to the use of recycled plastics and, in the long term, radically changes the materials of its cars. “There is a small cultural shift,” says designer Martin Buffery. “We have to try… to evolve with the times.”

He points the finger at the younger generation and says, “It won’t be long before they buy the vehicles…that we have in development”. He says he doesn’t see a day when plastics will no longer be used in cars, but “what we can do is eradicate either single-use plastics or virgin materials”.

There’s even an Australian connection to Land Rover’s move, with the company using eucalyptus fibers for an innovative seat finish. It comes from the back of BMW using eucalyptus, hemp and kenaf (a type of hibiscus) to finish its i3, which also contains olive leaf extract to color the leather .

It’s indicative of an automotive world that is changing with greener times.

This article originally appeared in Volume 40 of Exclusive luxury travel and style magazine. Subscribe to the latest issue today.

James G. Williams