Carbon neutral is the catchphrase in the auto industry at the moment, with manufacturers all over the globe pledging to make their dirty business green. The ultra-luxury segment faces an issue - how do you keep pioneering luxury mobility in a responsible and sustainable manner?
Forget the factories (a group like Volkswagen operates 120 production plants worldwide), brand image is a company’s real worth, and iconic marques such as Bentley, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche and Mercedes-Benz are facing the future with innovative solutions for a luxury lifestyle of a new generation.
Consumers are increasingly conscious of their carbon footprint and a change in buying behaviour among the younger generation is evident in the more informed shoppers today. Leather may still typify the ultimate in comfort, but for many it just means animal cruelty.
Car companies have responded with rapid development in recent years when it comes to interior materials. Polestar for example, Swedish brand Volvo’s luxury arm, offers a vegan interior, and cuts plastic content with the use of natural fibres like flax and a bit of fashion and active footwear industry knowhow to 3D-knit fully recyclable materials. The trick is for these emerging technologies to somehow manifest the subjective concept of luxury. Polestar head of design Maximilian Missoni believes it will work.
“We don’t need to sacrifice design and luxury with these materials,” says Missoni. “If anything, they enable an even more premium, cutting-edge execution which elevates our design-led products. Using sustainable materials presents a positive challenge, giving new meaning to interior design. We are able to derive entirely new aesthetics from a new context and the related technologies, allowing society to move on.”
Mercedes-Benz, with its ambition to offer a CO₂ neutral range of luxury cars by 2039, is researching new materials to replace out-of-sight parts that are usually made from plastics, using a process in harmony with nature that recycles food waste, mixed plastics, cardboard, and even baby nappies. Mercedes also recycles carpets and old fishing nets to offer eco-conscious customers the choice of replica leather interiors and sustainable microfibre.
When it comes to genuine leather, an essential status feature of luxury cars since the dawn of the automobile, manufacturers require hide suppliers to comply with strict animal welfare standards and conform to illegal deforestation rules. For the leather tanning process, usually one of the highest polluting steps towards a high-end personalised leather interior, Mercedes has committed to natural tanning agents that are free of chromium, like dried coffee bean husks and chestnuts. Promising innovations for upcoming models include a leather substitute made from raw materials such as cactus fibres or mycelium, which are essentially the roots of mushrooms, and rattan wood trim.
Marques synonymous with the ultimate in hand-made opulence, like Bentley and Rolls-Royce, go to even further lengths. Bentley’s stringent policy means they will only use certain trees if they fall naturally, and a new one is planted in its place. For the most demanding customers, their craftsmen can source fossilised oak reclaimed after lying in peat bogs for centuries, hand finishing their creation with details made of recycled copper. Catering to evolving tastes, Bentley is also increasingly offering the choice of textile fabric interior finishes as well as tweed made using the finest Scottish wool by a nearly entirely carbon-neutral mill. In the future, customers will be offered the option of a vegan interior too, consisting of unlikely raw materials like grape skins, seeds and stalks.
The future of luxury travel may be a bit unconventional, but then again wrapping ourselves in dead animals probably took some getting used to as well.