Market Shifts in Automotive Seat Materials
ITB’s New Cabin Technologies Report included seating as a cabin component that would see potential change, due to the introduction of audio, sensing, switch controls, and more modular and movable seating/ A less-explored area of seating has been the A-Surface itself, which reflects changing market attitudes regarding leather, synthetic leather, and fabric materials. We briefly review some of the major changes that are happening regarding synthetic, leather, and fabric materials based on recent industry interviews:
- The direction of seat materials is reaching a milestone. Genuine leather usage is rapidly dissipating because of Tesla’s move to vegan materials and due to the increasing perception of genuine leather as animal cruelty. The US Domestic 3 OEMs are now considering animal-free interiors and are asking the synthetic suppliers for increased help.
- Western OEMs are experimenting with marketing new synthetic offerings to Western buyers. Western OEMs are launching new synthetic seat upholstery under trade names such as BMW Sensatec, GM InteLuxe and EarthLuxe, Lucid PureLuxe, Mercedes-Benz Artico, and Volvo Microtech.
- OEM marketing is changing radically to sell the new vegan-synthetics as sustainable lifestyle choices, and make consumers feel good about choosing artificial leather.
- OEM organizations such as Volvo, Mercedes-Benz and others are becoming more educated at a corporate sustainability level about an even larger carbon dynamic and are now aware that livestock is responsible for fourteen percent of global greenhouse gas emissions from human activity, due to cattle farming. Additionally, there are now many chain-of-custody issues related to farming. In March of 2022 Mercedes-Benz announced that it is “working intensively to identify further alternatives for genuine leather” and that, more drastically, “by 2023 Mercedes-Benz will only offer leathers whose livestock does not contribute to deforestation, in all model series”.
- Microfiber suedes, represented by the tradenames Ultrasuede (Toray), Alcantara (Toray/Mitsui), and Dinamica (Asahi Kasei/Miko) have small market shares but enjoy premium positions. These suedes are needle punched nonwovens which entangle ultrafine fibers into a suede structure, with 20% polyurethane added into the ultrafine polyester nonwoven to bind the materials together for durability and cushion. The ultrafine fibers create the nap for soft and smooth touch. These materials can endure harsh interior environments without spoiling the soft and silky characteristics.
Seat Materials Competitive Innovation Trends
Source: The ITB Group, Ltd.
In summary, The ITB Group observes that all three players are highly interested in appropriating haptic properties from other categories, while at the same time their OEM and Tier customers are trying to find novel approaches to translucency and touch conductivity. The industry will continue to see decreases in leather, with gains achieved in synthetic seat surfaces.