Fashion houses such as Stella McCartney and Victoria Beckham have long eschewed animal products in their wares, while automakers including Audi, BMW, Land Rover, and Tesla offer leather-free and sustainable interiors as options in their cars.
So far, Volvo is among the very few brands to say it will not offer any leather at all, even as an option, in any of its vehicles. Electric truckmaker Rivian currently offers only vegan “leather” seats in its R1T pickup, with no option for leather seating or trim.
The shift at Volvo will begin next year with the C40 Recharge, a plug-in electric SUV with a 200-plus mile driving range. It will continue until 2030, when Volvo’s by then all-electric lineup will have entirely phased out leather products. This is a decision driven as much by reading and predicting market trends as from concern for the ethical treatment of animals, Volvo executives tell Bloomberg Pursuits during a private video interview.
“We see our customer’s expectations are changing,” says Robin Page, the head of design for Volvo Cars. “They are changing their habits in fashion and products they are buying. They want to know more about the materials and where they are sourced from and where they come from, and people are much more aware of climate change and the effects on the planet.”
According to a report from Infinium Global Research quoted by Stuart Templar, Volvo’s director of global sustainability, the vegan leather market is expected to reach €73 billion ($85 billion) in value by 2025. By that time, a quarter of the materials in Volvo’s new cars will consist of recycled and bio-based content, says Page, and all of its immediate suppliers, including material suppliers, will use 100% renewable energy.
“Consumers are increasingly focused not just on the end product but how it is produced,” adds Templar, “and that includes responsible sourcing.”
Volvo will introduce a new wool-blend option, made from certified suppliers, as the company looks to ensure full traceability and animal welfare in its materials supply chain. It will also offer Microtech, a suede-like textile made from recycled polyester, as well as components made from sustainably sourced flax and linen.
“There are premium alternatives to leather,” Page says. Previously, consumers viewed anything that isn’t leather as inferior; now that they understand more about climate change, they are changing their minds. Livestock, he says, is estimated to be responsible for around 14% of global greenhouse gas emissions from human activity, with the majority coming from cattle farming. “Our ultimate aim is to get recycled natural materials, because that is the full sustainability part.”
Nordico, another new, non-leather material Volvo will be using, consists of textiles made from recycled material such as plastic (PET) bottles, wood remnants from sustainable forests in Sweden and Finland, and corks recycled from the wine industry.
The announcement comes amid what Volvo has called “really annoying” challenges in obtaining computer chips. In July, Volvo agreed to take control of its China ventures from parent Geely Automobile Holdings Ltd., potentially boosting its valuation ahead of a planned share sale.
Volvo could earn a valuation of roughly $20 billion, with a listing expected by the end of September. Even if dwarfed by the estimated $80 billion initial public offering expected for electric pickup truck startup Rivian, Volvo’s would be among the biggest IPOs in Europe in 2021.