Looking Towards Tomorrow
Car interiors are affected by the return of natural materials, modern technology, sustainability and recycling
ustainability is one of ŠKODA AUTO’s priorities and an emphasis of the NEXT LEVEL – ŠKODA STRATEGY 2030. The carmaker is, therefore, intensifying work in this area and looking for innovative and environmentally friendly materials – for example, for its car interiors. To make it clear how important the issue of sustainability is to the carmaker, it held the Sustainable Innovation Workshop on 19 July, where 10 suppliers presented their own sustainability solutions. The event was also attended by Karsten Schnake, Board Member for Purchasing, and Johannes Neft, Board Member for Technical Development. Of course, other ŠKODA AUTO representatives were also present, including from the Design (especially Colour & Trim), Purchasing, Marketing and Quality departments, as well as individual product lines. The suppliers presented the carmaker’s representatives a total of 28 specific innovative solutions focused on the topics of sustainability, circular economy (i.e. closed product life cycle) and nature-friendly production processes. The suppliers presented materials that the carmaker can use (for interior parts, such as seats, dashboards, door panels, steering wheel and other upholstery).
The carmaker is trying to get new materials and their modification procedures into its cars; however, in addition to the aesthetic aspect, they must also meet quality and safety conditions.
Three main directions
According to Markéta Truhelková from the BI – Purchasing interior department, the workshop resulted in three main directions that the carmaker can take. The first involves vegan leather alternatives. “The goal is to develop an alternative to leather based on biopolymers that are sustainable and recyclable and do not compete with the food industry”, says Truhelková. Biopolymers are intended to replace petroleum-derived binders. The second interesting area is ecological hide tanning (the leather-creating process by which fats are removed from the hide and the leather is softened). “We already have experience with this, since in the ENYAQ iV model, we use leather tanned through olive leaf extract”, she describes, adding that the carmaker wants to move this topic even further. For example, tanning hides with coffee bean skins is another alternative. The aim is to minimise the use of chemicals in leather tanning and to process waste, for example, from the food industry. “It is also a return to the roots since, in the past, leather was dyed only in a natural way”, Truhelková adds. Last but not least, ŠKODA AUTO wants to use 100 percent recycled and also recyclable (re-usable) materials. “We want to achieve a closed product life cycle.” An interesting direction that the carmaker is now researching relates to materials with antibacterial or antiviral treatment. ED
There’s Leather and Then There’s Leather
n search of a path to sustainability, ŠKODA AUTO is exploring the possibilities of using modern leather materials and various leather alternatives. “There are customers who, because of their beliefs, reject leather as a material of animal origin, and we respect that. Of course, we will be offering them more and more sustainable alternatives”, says Markéta Kalíková, a leather and related materials specialist from EDI/3 – Colour and trim. According to her, it is important to realise that leather itself, as a natural material, is actually in accordance with the sustainability principles. “The leather we use in the automotive industry is basically just a residual material from the meat industry”, she explains. The point is to ensure, above all, ecological leather processing.
However, there are plenty of alternatives to pure natural leather, some of which the EDI/3 team presented at the recent Innovation Day 2021. Recycled leather, a material that contains essentially 80 percent ground natural leather and 20 percent bio-binders, is available for use. According to Kalíková, it is suitable for less-stressed surfaces. “Among others, it is not suitable for car seats”, she says. However, according to her, the advantage is the possibility to simulate any surface structure with this material. “It is possible to achieve, for example, the effect of snake or alligator skin, various technical surfaces etc.”, adds Kalíková. Another possibility relates to the use of the previously less-used bottom layer of leather, which can be printed in various ways and used to simulate, for example, stitching. ED