The Smart Fortwo is a clever little car that has continued to be popular since the brand was bought by Mercedes in 1998. One unexpected aspect of the Smart car and other cultish smaller vehicles is the fact that a much higher proportion of their customers have paid extra for leather interiors.
The concept of luxury in a small package has certainly taken off with some segments of the market and the leather industry has been pleased to respond.
The current Smart Fortwo 2015 catalogue makes this clear and in the Prime package customers are offered upholstery in black leather with white topstitching while the sports package also provides a 3-spoke multi-function sports steering wheel in perforated leather. This is all very normal, but it also appears that the Basic Smart Fortwo includes a steering wheel partially covered in leather. As a result according to a blog post by the animal rights group PETA they have successfully lobbied Mercedes to remove the leather covered steering wheel from the basic option in 2016.
Members of LeatherNaturally! have no problem with this move, although they are surprised that it is worthy of so much acclaim. Nearly 20% of all cattle hide leather now goes into automobiles after two decades of steady growth and leather remains in favour where consumers appreciate its aesthetics, longevity and the added resale value it offers. No tanner wishes to force leather on an unwilling buyer.
The PETA blog was written by Paula Moore and published in February 23rd. She argues that making leather involves the use of “cyanide” and exposes people who work and live near tanneries to “suffer from exposure to ... toxic chemicals”. She says that “Leather production squanders natural resources” pointing to water consumption and “massive amounts of carbon emissions”.
We wish to challenge her on these points and to point out to any editors or leather buyers and users that this is just totally untrue. Making leather is a chemical process like many others that conditions natural materials to make them suited for consumer products but it is one that when managed properly is perfectly safe to all involved. Tanners have never used cyanide and we challenge Ms Moore to explain where she obtained this information. The use of a loose and meaningless term like “toxic chemicals” is totally incorrect and just an attempt at scaremongering. Turning consumers against any use of science and technology appears to be a target of PETA’s activity.
Rather than squandering natural resources leather preserves it, as it is primarily converting a natural by-product from the meat and dairy industries into a material which lasts far longer than its alternatives and hugely reduces landfill. The carbon footprint of processing leather is very similar to that of alternates but comes without the huge cost associated with the one of use of petroleum based products that are used as the basis of the plastics that PETA prefers.
Very encouragingly the recent video where Daimler talks about the new colors and trim coming out for Mercedes/Smart in terms of interior design concepts they continue to prominently feature authentic materials, wood, cork and leather.
Tanners accept that some consumers do not want to eat meat, or drink milk, for a wide variety of reasons, but we do not accept that the vast majority that do should be deprived of using an uplifting and sustainable product like leather. While PETA argues for animal rights much of the evidence to date suggest that following their logic does not in fact improve animal welfare in the long run and even that aspect of their policy deserves much further scrutiny.
The LeatherNaturally! Programme