Skip to main content

Leather interior has always been the mark of a luxury car, or at least, a well-optioned mid-tier model. The flip side of this rule was that economy cars were fitted with vinyl or cloth seats. This was just the way it was. However, things are changing and now your luxury new car interior might be changing forever. 

The tan-leather-upholstered front seats and wood-trimmed black dashboard of a 1981 C107 Mercedes 380 SLC
1981 C107 Mercedes 380 SLC front interior | Cars & Bids

Not all leather car interiors were created equally

That being said, there are still a wide variety of leather car interiors. The fact that many new car interiors are fitted with leather has brought the quality threshold. The normal leather we see these days is a kind of thick plastic-y leather that never really scratches the itch that real, full-grain quality leather can. 

For example, the Merino full-grain leather in a top-spec BMW or the natural look of the aniline leather in some Ferraris are quite different than what most of us get in our optioned Toyota Camry. Either way, even cheap leather smells and looks good, but is that enough to continue using it as much as we do? 

The time may be coming for new car interiors to turn to cloth once more

According to CarScoops, Mini and Volvo have committed to stop using leather in new car interiors. The two automakers have ended their leather consumption for the environmental impact cattle farming has on the planet. This pairs nicely with the companies dedication to make only EVs by 2030

“We don’t need leather anymore in the future because we don’t believe it’s sustainable,” Mini’s design boss, Oliver Heilmer, told Autocar earlier in the year.

Is leather bad for the environment? 

Cattle grazing on dried grass shows part of why many automakers are replacing the leather in new car interiors with cloth and vegan leather
Cattle graze on dried grass at a ranch | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Cattle farming is one of the leading causes of climate change. Keeping enough cattle to sustain our use of leather, meat, and milk, requires huge amounts of land. According to CarScoops, one car interior uses anywhere from three to eight cowhides to finish in leather. 

Even if the car companies themselves don’t care about being more green, more and more customers every are deciding to be more intentional about spending money with sustainable businesses. If the rich are going vegan, then luxury goods must follow. 

Are there nice new car interiors upholstered with cloth? 

This doesn’t mean new car interiors will be like the cloth seats of our mom’s early 90s Ford Escort. Bentley recently revealed a new interior with seats covered in vegan grape leather made from leftovers from the wine industry. In other cases, up to 89 percent of the textiles in the 2020-onwards Audi A3s equipped with cloth upholstery are made from recycled plastic bottles, 45 1.5-liter bottles going into each seat, and 62 into making a carpet. 

I think we can probably all agree that Audi and Bently make a fairly nice interior. If brands like these are committed to making a luxurious interior without using leather, I’d say we have a pretty good shot at cloth interiors making a comeback. 

I am a fan of leather. My car has a leather interior; I usually wear a leather jacket; my wallet, favorite chair, and shoes are all made of leather. However, the earth we all rely on to remain alive is struggling to support our consumption of leather and other cow products. If companies can replace the leather and still give us a killer product, I say, let them do it. Bring back cloth car interiors.


2022 Mini Cooper S Review, Pricing, and Specs