Thursday, September 28, 2023

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First, the World’s Safest Car Went Electric. Now, Volvo Is Going Leather-Free.


Long synonymous with car safety, Volvo now wants to add most sustainable and most ethical automaker to its reputation, too. It’s starting by going leather-free.

Swedish carmaker Volvo first announced its plans for removing leather from its new EVs last spring. The car manufacturer now says it’s achieved that goal, and starting with the electric C40 Recharge, all of its new electric vehicle interiors will be made from sustainable, leather-free materials.

“Being a progressive car maker means we need to address all areas of sustainability, not just CO2 emissions,” Stuart Templar, director of global sustainability at Volvo Cars, said in a statement. “Responsible sourcing is an important part of that work, including respect for animal welfare. Going leather-free inside our pure electric cars is a good next step towards addressing this issue.”

By 2025, the automaker is aiming for 25 percent of the material in all new cars to be made from recycled and bio-based content. This is part of its goal of becoming a fully circular business by 2040. 

Conscious design

Detailing its plan in a new report, titled The Rise of Conscious Design, in collaboration with leading trend forecasting company The Future Laboratory, the carmaker says replacing leather and other animal parts is the first step toward a sustainable future for the brand.

Volvo worked with experts and thought leaders across industries, including Claire Bergkamp, COO of TheTextile Exchange and former Worldwide Sustainability and Innovation Director for Stella McCartney; Wen Zhou, CEO of 3.1 Phillip Lim; Dr Leonardi Bonnani, Founder and CEO of Sourcemap; and Xu Gang, co-Founder of Bentu Design.

“Conscious design is showing a way forward and could transform the world in the process.”

-Martin Raymond, co-founder of The Future Laboratory

“We have a vision of where we need to go in the future, with the first step to ensure we harness sustainable, natural and recycled materials,” Robin Page, head of design at Volvo Cars, said. “The next challenge is to change what we do with these materials, whether that’s making car parts that last forever, re-enter the circular economy or go back into the earth.”


A material debuting in the next generation of Volvo models that the company calls Nordico, is made from upcycled PET bottles, bio-attributed material from sustainable forests in Sweden and Finland, and corks recycled from the wine industry. This, the company says, is setting a new standard for premium interior vehicle design. 

“Conscious design can fundamentally transform our society and it’s integral that brands harness the opportunities on offer,” said Martin Raymond, co-founder of The Future Laboratory. “Conscious design is showing a way forward and could transform the world in the process.”

First, the World's Safest Car Went Electric. Now, Volvo Is Going Leather-Free. Forever.

Volvo says it’s motivated by both animal welfare and environmental concerns. It points to cattle farming’s contributions to deforestation and livestock emissions; the animal agriculture sector produces at least 14 percent of total GHGs.

Going electric

A growing number of car companies are going fully electric. Bentley has announced plans to debut its first fully electric vehicle and become a leader in sustainable auto manufacturing. Aston Martin has also made the shift with plans to go fully electric or hybrid on all engines. Mercedes just launched its first electric S-class.

Volvo has so far only debuted one electric vehicle, the XC40 Recharge, after it first announced its plans to introduce EVs in 2019. The company, a subsidiary of Chinese multinational automotive company Geely Holding Group, now says it anticipates at least half of its sales to be in EVs by 2025.

“I am totally convinced there will no customers who really want to stay with a petrol engine,” Volvo Chief Executive Håkan Samuelsson told reporters last spring. “We are convinced that an electric car is more attractive for customers.”

The C40 coupe can get an 80 percent charge in 40 minutes when plugged into a DC fast charger.

First, the World's Safest Car Went Electric. Now, Volvo Is Going Leather-Free. Forever.

“There is no long-term future for cars with an internal combustion engine,” Volvo chief technology officer Henrik Green said in a statement. The transition to EVs will allow Volvo “to meet the expectations of our customers and be a part of the solution when it comes to fighting climate change,” he added.

Volvo says it is also doing away with another pain point in vehicle purchases: car lot salespeople. The company said that the new C40 will only be available for purchase online. Like Tesla Motors, the leading EV producer, Volvo is moving toward a fully online sales model and will “radically reduce” its product ranges, with more transparent pricing models.

A hybrid future

The news about Volvo’s shift away from leather comes on the heels of the brand announcing the launch of vegan footwear—a limited-edition partnership with Canadian shoe brands Casca.

Volvo launched the leather-free shoes yesterday, World Car Free Day.

“At Volvo Cars, we are committed to setting the highest standards of sustainability in mobility and that goes beyond electrifying our fleet to transforming all aspects of our business,” Matt Girgis, Managing Director of Volvo Car Canada Ltd., said. “The shoe we have created with Casca in celebration of World Car-Free Day, is one way to recognize the many steps we are taking on our journey to climate neutrality.”


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