Aside

Can Your Car Go Vegan, Too?

As someone who spends a LOT of time writing about cars, I spend more time than most people thinking about ways to reconcile my vegan-ish lifestyle with car ownership.

My concerns have nothing to do with the fossil fuels most cars use, or the pollution they cause — or rather, those are separate issues. No, my concerns are with the materials used to manufacture those cars, including leather and glue.

If it were written a couple of years ago, this article might’ve taken a mocking tone — “Oh, you hippy-dippy animal-huggers, you.” But perhaps because the piece focuses on (a) a wealthy couple who (b) hold shares in Tesla the issue is addressed pretty seriously.

For car buyers like the Peterses — who have been vegans for more than two decades — leather-free choices are limited. The car-buying site Edmunds.com says 78 percent of 2015 model-year vehicles have standard leather seats on at least one trim level. In other words, buyers content with basic models can get cloth seats and plastic steering wheels, but as they add options like better engines, heated seats or upgraded speakers, they usually have to add leather seats.

Edmunds says 79 vehicles in the 2015 model year don’t require buyers to get leather at any trim level. Those include the Toyota Prius hybrid, the BMW 3 Series and the Volkswagen Jetta. But even some models with cloth or faux-leather seats — like the plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt — still have leather-wrapped steering wheels.

That’s not likely to change any time soon. Most customers worldwide equate leather with quality, richness and comfort, says Mel Stephens, a spokesman for automotive seat-maker Lear Corp.

“Vinyl is good, but leather is better,” he said. “People like natural materials.”

Oh, well. At least we’re on their radar.

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