Dr Senior expressed his disappointment with the article which, having considered only the opinions of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), was biased and “riddled with inaccuracies and blatant falsehoods”. According to the article, “the past few years have seen a major push by premium car firms to develop vegan leather alternatives, with some firms in the process of phasing out leather options entirely”. It goes on to mention how Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton has recently engaged in talks with Mercedes-Benz “to phase out leather entirely”. The article puts forward a quote by Yvonne Taylor, Director of Corporate Projects, PETA, who told Autocar that the organisation wants OEMS to offer entirely vegan interior options for every model, and added that “leather isn’t a by-product of the meat industry, as many people think, but a ‘global, US$100 billion-a-year industry that slaughters more than one billion cows, sheep, goats and pigs [annually].”

In a letter addressed to Autocar, Dr Kerry Senior, responded to the article and refuted some of the claims made as inaccurate. He stated:

“Leather has long been synonymous with luxury in cars. In recent years, the automotive sector has been the largest area of growth for leather use, accounting for over 17% of the annual global production of leather. The volume of leather used in car interiors has increased from 253 million sq ft in 1990, to nearly four billion sq ft now, demonstrating that leather is increasingly popular for vehicle interiors. There is increasing demand from consumers for leather in cars and, with the shift to autonomous vehicles and the growing importance of comfort and luxury in the cockpit, it is reasonable to assume that this demand will grow.

However, leather has its detractors. Various agenda groups attack leather and leather manufacture, citing spurious, scientifically illiterate studies to accuse tanners of causing harm to people and the environment. The most common theme is the impact of the rearing of livestock, the source of 99% of the skins and hides used in leather manufacture, and in particular, its impact on climate change and water consumption. The quite staggering flaws in these arguments notwithstanding, the reality is that over 90% of the world’s population eat meat, and that meat consumption is rising. While this is the case, in excess of seven million tonnes of hides and skins will be produced every year which will need to be dealt with. The most efficient and elegant solution to that problem is the manufacture of leather. Leather is unarguably a by-product of the meat industry.

Unlike the manufacture of synthetic alternatives from fossil fuels, leather production is sustainable, uses a renewable by-product as a raw material, and applies heavily regulated chemistries to produce a material that is versatile, durable and beautiful. Ironically, the opponents of leather see no contradiction in warning consumers about the use of chemicals in leather, while insisting that they should replace it with chemically-derived synthetic alternatives. This article itself offered apple skin leather as the future of vegan leather interiors, even though this material is largely comprised of plastic.

Consumers have an ever-increasing degree of choice of materials for their car interiors. Leather remains the premium choice, bringing not only beauty, comfort and style to the interior, but also a material that is sustainable, renewable and biodegradable. Furthermore, this leather is produced by a sector that strives continuously to reduce its own environmental impact while reducing the impact of another. Leather is the solution, not the problem.”

To read the Autocar article, click here.