The road ahead – leather and the automotive industry14 February 2017
Electric – and possibly driverless – cars are about to change the automotive industry forever, with potential consequences for high-end upholstery. Hidenet publisher Don Ohsman considers how leather can thrive in a petrol-free future.
It’s only matter of time before electricity replaces petroleum as the chief power source for passenger cars and commercial vehicles. The technology has already been successfully tested, and is sufficiently developed to effectively guarantee petrol’s eventual obsolescence.
Major automobile companies are also more than aware that it may become increasingly uneconomical to own a car at all. Why have an expensive, but ever-depreciating piece of metal and rubber taking up valuable space in your home or in parking lot if Uber, or some future version of it, provides cheap, electrical taxis to your door, with no lease payments, insurance or maintenance costs?
Driverless vehicles are another near-inevitability. Smartphones will soon require just a simple verbal command to summon something suited to our needs and budget in a few minutes, without a human cabby in sight. What does this have to do with leather? Plenty. Think of the square footage of leather used in modern vehicles. The smell alone goes a long way towards creating desire.
Then there’s the profit made by manufacturers and dealers by offering this premium feature.
It’s difficult to imagine a company like Uber spending signifcant amounts of money on expensive, high-end upholstery for their electric fleet when price and punctuality are more likely to be the chief criteria for its passengers.
Perhaps a premium service, like a Rolls-Royce taxi, may emerge for those willing to spend the extra money, but that segment of the population will be a fraction of those who opt for leather seating in the cars they buy today.So, what can be done? Leather must continue to sell itself. It’s conceivable that the way taxis – or whatever semi-public transportation ends up being be called – smell will be a point of difference between competing firms; maybe leather’s hardiness will persuade vendors to cover their seats in it. Where there’s a will, there’s always a way, but the industry must start thinking about this sooner, rather than later.