Sustainability in Luxury Automotive: Going Beyond the Electric Motor

From seats to foot carpets, luxury auto brands are revising their standards to go one step further in their sustainability goals.

By: Somnath Chatterjee

Posted on: November 11, 2022

BMW electric car

As the world grapples with demand and supply along with the ever-lasting threat of climate change, the luxury industry also had to change its course along with a paradigm shift in the demands of its consumers. In terms of the automotive industry, sustainability is the new buzz word, with manufacturers incorporating it right from the start.

Sustainability is certainly the new prism by which automotive luxury is now viewed, but this thought philosophy goes beyond the use of certain materials or interior trim. Car makers are changing the way they make cars to sourcing materials along with how their factory operates.

In the past, the automotive industry has not quite focussed on sustainability, and the luxury automotive industry continued to focus on traditional luxury elements like leather and wood.

Rolls-Royce Spectre

The Rolls-Royce Spectre.

With tighter emission norms and with the luxury car-buyer being more environmentally aware, there has been a marked change with legacy car-makers steeped in history altering how they approach luxury. Rolls-Royce, the highly traditional marquee that prides itself on a historically superior driving experience, has started dabbling into electric cars with its first Spectre model. A little late, but not unwelcome.

What goes outside

BMW, which seems to be at the forefront of changing the automotive world, has even partnered with Straus Organic Dairy Farm to transform methane into renewable energy for electric vehicles. 

Sustainability, today, starts with the car factory itself, from the sourcing of raw materials to the electricity or even the forklifts in the factory being electric. 

Hence, with electric cars at the cusp of mainstream acceptance, luxury car-makers are going one step forward in not using rare earth metals in making of the battery. With electric cars surging in popularity, increased mining has become a concern and how the reserves of cobalt, lithium and nickel are being depleted. BMW, for example, is not using rare earth metals, while also recycling metals along with finding solutions for sustainable mining. Some manufacturers are also reducing the use of Cobalt while sustainable lithium extraction is another facet of this change.

BMW, which seems to be at the forefront of changing the automotive world, has even partnered with Straus Organic Dairy Farm to transform methane into renewable energy for electric vehicles. 

Apart from this, the BMW Group is sourcing low-carbon steel for its European plants. The aim is to use low-carbon steel to meet over 40% of demand at its European plants by 2030, thereby reducing CO2 emissions by up to 400,000 tons per year. Low-carbon steel is produced using natural gas or hydrogen and green power, instead of fossil resources like coal. 

What’s inside

The other big development is the use of materials and how traditional elements like leather are now being shunned in favour of recycled materials. Leather, if used at all, is treated with olive leaf extract instead of conventional tanning agents. This is obtained from the leaves gathered following the pruning of the trees.

Manufacturers are also trimming the carpets in recycled nylon waste material recovered from fishing nets or using recycled plastic. The use of chrome or wood has diminished while sustainably sourced wood trim is also a new feature with luxury cars these days.

The floor mats for various models are made from mono-material, thus avoiding material mixes that are difficult to recycle.

Vegan interiors BMW

Proposed vegan materials for interiors of BMW Group cars.

There are many encouraging examples. The BMW Group plans to launch its first vehicles featuring completely vegan interiors in 2023. The floor mats for various models are made from mono-material, thus avoiding material mixes that are difficult to recycle. As a result, the BMW Group saves around 23,000 tonnes of CO2 and an additional 1,600 tonnes of waste every year, since the recycled floor mats and waste material are also reused within the production process.

The group is working with start-up companies to develop innovative bio-based materials which result in around 45% lower CO2 emissions. Mirum, which is 100% bio-based and petroleum-free, has the potential to mimic all the properties of traditional leather. Another new material, Deserttex, is made from pulverised cactus fibres with a bio-based polyurethane matrix. 

Bentley Batur

Bentley Batur GT.

Bentley has undertaken a huge sustainability exercise as well. Their Batur limited-edition GT uses low-carbon leather. It is also one of their first cars to use Dinamica, an alternative suede-like sustainable material to leather.

MINI – makers of the lovable small cars – in fact took the classic 1998 model, and with the help of designer Paul Smith, reinvented the entire car with an electric motor, while ridding it of materials and trims that are unnecessary in a machine made for pure driving purposes. It is an exercise in sustainable reinvention. 

Mini Recharged

MINI Recharged by Paul Smith.

As we speak, auto manufacturers are researching on healthier, cleaner alternatives. And luxury automobile manufacturers would be the first to jump aboard in terms of experimenting with new materials and making luxury cars greener, sustainable.

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