Tesla Goes Vegan: Why Elon Musk is Leaving Leather Behind

Tesla removed the non-vegan interior options from its website a few days ago. This shift is prompting observers to conclude the company is transitioning to fully leather-free, vegan vehicles. 

Customers love Tesla’s vegan leather

While the steering wheel is leather wrapped (which can be swapped out for a vegan leather steering wheel on request), the rest of the interior is constructed from vegan materials. I haven’t seen an official statement from Tesla on the Model 3, except that vegan interiors will be available. I DID notice a Top Gear test drive of the Model 3 described the interior as “leather.” However, I think it’s fairly clear that’s an error, since Tesla’s premium package has included vegan leather for several years. Considering the high quality of the material, it’s likely customers – and reviewers – simply haven’t paid much attention.

As Elon Musk himself has tweeted, the vegan leather is simply superior to “genuine” leather. Most people either can’t tell the difference, or actively prefer the animal-free option. A few Tesla customers have left comments on the Tesla website complaining that Tesla will be no longer selling “natural” leather. This is understandable, since customers see “genuine” leather as a sign of quality.

Unfortunately, that idea is the result of very misleading marketing.

Genuine leather is not “natural”

Leather is not “natural.” Yes, there are a few lightly treated vegetable tanned leathers on the market. But they aren’t suitable for vehicle seating. In order to last in high traffic environments, leather is heavily treated with toxic chemicals and heavy metals that last forever. Vegan leather, however “unnatural” it may seem, requires fewer chemicals. And while they require petroleum for production (the polyurethane type product Tesla uses is 40% petroleum), they’re still less toxic than “natural” leather. For example, burning it at end of life actually leaves fewer heavy metals in the ground and in water ways than any treated leather.
And while it may require petroleum for production (the polyurethane type product Tesla uses for seating is 40% petroleum), burning it at end of life leaves fewer heavy metals in the ground and in water ways than treated leather.
Tesla is not a vegan company. But they’re smart enough to realize plant-based materials are the way of the future. And that’s a great sign of things to come.

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