Automotive trends

Ordinarily at this time of year the international motor show calendar is well underway giving carmakers a global stage to show off their latest cutting-edge models, new technologies and breathtaking luxury interiors.

Sadly, the coronavirus pandemic has seen this year’s events in Geneva, New York, Beijing, Paris and Detroit cancelled, or rescheduled. Despite this year’s blip, research suggests that the automotive interior sector is set for significant growth over the next five years – rising from an estimated $7.6bn in 2019 to $8.44bn by 2026 – and confirms that despite a number of challenger materials entering the market, leather continues to be the most desirable and durable car interior option.

The push towards more sustainable and environmentally friendly cars is energising automotive companies as they innovate to create the most carbon friendly vehicles. Naturally, much of their attention focuses on what happens under the bonnet, with the march towards electric power being the major development. However, in recent years Scottish Leather Group has seen automotive design teams take much more interest in the wider possibilities of sustainable car design, with increasing focus on materials used in the cabin.

Consumers will always dictate design trends. As car buyers become increasingly conscious of the impact their purchases have on our world, car design teams are naturally wanting to know more about all the materials they put into each car. So much so that Scottish Leather Group even had a Swedish team visit us in Scotland last year to view our entire production line. They saw first-hand how we source our raw materials, the high standard of animal husbandry we insist on from suppliers and they learned about the treatment processes involved in creating our high performance natural leather.

Design teams and manufacturers need to know the full story of the leather they specify in their cars, so that they can pass those stories on to the buyers of their vehicles. The people who spend £100,000-plus on an Aston Martin want to know the provenance of all parts of the vehicle and our high-end leather used in the car’s interior has a really great story to tell.

It is heartening to us that the high-end automotive sector is trending towards very natural looking stripped back leather in their interiors. In a sense, things have come full circle. In the Fifties and Sixties, the leather used in car interiors always had a natural look, but in subsequent decades it became very much about uniform appearance and technical performance. This meant more coatings were required, which is where you can start to lose that natural leather look and feel. Today design teams at carmakers such as Rolls Royce, Bentley and Aston Martin are again recognising that it is not a race to turn a beautiful natural piece of leather into a plastic. Instead they want to reduce coatings and show what is natural and good about the leather they use in their cars.

Above all, leather is a natural product. It comes from animals and no two pieces are ever the same. Designers are now embracing the individuality of leather and recognising that what once were perhaps seen as imperfections – the growth lines and scars for example – are actually unique features that make a piece of leather special.

A more recent trend is the rise of synthetic materials, often referred to as ‘vegan leather’. No man-made fabric can compete with natural leather on durability, breathability or sustainability and we refute any argument that these synthetic materials are as sustainable as real leather. At the end of the day these materials are plastics, or plastics woven with other fabrics, and there is little positive to be said in an environmental sense about the petrochemical based manufacture of plastics.

Speaking to our high-end automotive partners, the uptake of synthetics is slow. Their discerning customers have a certain expectation when they invest hundreds of thousands of pounds in a premium luxury vehicle. They still expect to open the door of their new luxury car and experience the unique aroma and touch of real leather.

It is our job to work closely with the design teams at these high-end car manufacturers and ensure that the leather they buy from us is the most ethically and responsibly sourced in the world. And we are very happy to guarantee that.

Scottish Leather Group may have been around for almost 200 years, but we are looking forward to a very exciting future as we enter the age of autonomous and electric cars in the years ahead. Driverless cars will offer us many opportunities. We believe that the interior design of a car will play an even more important role as vehicles become less about driving and more about comfort, convenience and luxury. Think about it, if you no longer have to drive your car, then it becomes little more than a sofa on wheels. And what would be better than a beautiful, soft, natural leather sofa to relax on during a long journey?

The move towards increased city living will build demand for shared-user cars, much like the Boris Bikes in London. Users don’t need to own a car but may need instant access to one for occasional use. With multiple users having access to the same vehicle during the same day, durability, hygiene and cleanability become vitally important. Our product development team are very busy developing a range of ultra-durable high quality leathers that can be utilised by carmakers who will one day supply shared car companies around the world.

There are still plenty of conversations for us to have with the major players in the global car industry to ensure that they fully recognise the huge role our natural high-performance leather has to play in their future. The deeper those conversations can dive into how we conduct business here at Scottish Leather Group and the standards we maintain throughout our production process the better. We remain convinced that our leather offers them the most sustainable, responsible and commercially viable option for the future – whatever that future may look like.

James Muirhead

James Muirhead
Sales Manager, Bridge of Weir