Motortrades Insight Magazine Online Subscribe About Us Contact Us Motortrades Insight - Motoring News, Articles & Interviews Home Finance Reviews Under The Hood Motorsport Business Profiles Archive Related Tags: leather, bridge of weir, scottlish leather group, synthetic leather, bovine bull leather, bovine bull car leather, bovine bull automotive leather, peta automotive leather, peta synthetic leather, rspca, peta, rpsca leather industry, peta leather industry, under the hood EXCLUSIVE: Automotive leather industry set to grow ‘significantly’ as PETA and RSPCA encourage drivers to opt for more eco-friendly alternatives By: Danny Hewitt Ref:A0505 Published: 17 July 2013


With more luxury cars splurging onto the market and incorporating leather in either small quantities – or more often large amounts – it should come as no surprise that the automotive leather industry is set to grow significantly over the coming years, according to industry leader Bridge of Weir.

“I see the automotive leather industry growing significantly and getting more and more competitive,” explained Jamie Davidson, Sales Director at Bridge of Weir Leather Company (BoW). “There is more of a focus to ensure that car owners and drivers have a far greater interior experience of a vehicle as this is where most of his or her time is spent.

“We see the industry following in our footsteps to become environmentally responsible.” Sourcing most of its hides from within 100 miles of its Scottish factory, based in Renfrewshire, Bridge of Weir really is a local business making a national and international impact, but with some cars requiring up to eight bovine bull hides to make up the entire interior – from the seats and walls to the ceiling and steering wheel – animal rights activists have questioned if leather is really necessary, or if synthetic alternatives are just as good.

“Most people would be horrified to learn that it takes up to eight cow hides to make one leather car interior,” explained Ben Williamson from PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) UK.


But the RSPCA held a different view on the matter. “If an animal is to be killed for meat we believe there should be as little waste as possible and as much of the animal as possible should be used,” added Julia Wrathall, Head of the Farm Animal Department at the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals).

“Having said this, the rearing and killing of animals solely for producing to upholster luxury cars would raise certain ethical questions.”

In 2009, Audi came up with a rather uncomfortable-to-read pun: “Only the very best bulls for Audi interiors”. It was to boast about how the manufacturer does not source its leather from cows because their hides were ‘too small’. Audi boasted how it sourced ‘very high grade leather from the core of the bull's back’.


BoW’s Jamie Davidson says his company uses ‘bovine bull hides that are required for the meat industry’. “They are sent to us as a by-product to be turned into a luxury item,” he explained. “So bovine bull hides sourced from the UK and Ireland, in our experience offer the highest quality hides.”

He added: “It is tough and extremely competitive as there are not many high end automotive leather manufacturers worldwide. Your competitors know your product and we know theirs and there is constant pressure to ensure that your product can stand out above the rest.”

Perhaps one question that many people consider when buying a new car is if the leather weighs the car down and reduces it fuel economy, making it more costly for motorists to run. 


“We can shave the Leather hides or skive the cut parts thinner or use specialist lightweight tanning agents, dyes and finishes,” Mr Davidson added. “Having said that, if your car has one and a half hides in it this will equate to five to six kg and at most with eight hides - 32kg, which is not very heavy.”

In addition to car seats, roof linings and instrument panels, key fobs, key rings and luxury car luggage suitcases are among the other products to be made using specially treated leather. 

And while it is ‘difficult to say’ for definite, Europe, Asia and the United States appear to be the main targets for growth. 

While Bridge of Weir says it currently sources all its leather from British cows, the picture is not so pretty abroad, especially in growth markets such as China. 


PETA’s Ben Williamson stated the upsetting reality many do not want to hear. “The majority of leather comes from developing countries such as India and China, where animal welfare laws are either non-existent or not enforced. Most of the cows who are slaughtered for their skins endure extreme crowding and deprivation as well as castration, branding, tail-docking and dehorning, all without any pain relief.”

He told Motortrades Insight that a PETA Asia-Pacific investigation in India documented how cows had their tails broken and chilli peppers and tobacco rubbed into their eyes in order to force them to stand up and move ‘after they collapsed from exhaustion on their journey to be killed’. 

“At slaughterhouses, animals routinely have their throats slit and are skinned while they are still conscious because of ineffective stunning methods. In addition to being very cruel, the leather industry is also disastrous for the environment. Most leather around the world is tanned using chromium and other hazardous chemicals, which poison both workers and nearby groundwater.”


But if one leaves a leather product in the sun for any period of time, it is common for it to heat up. The extortionate temperatures across Europe have been doing just that to many car interiors in recent weeks, putting some buyers off acquiring vehicles with leather seats.

“There are numerous high-quality, eco-friendly alternatives to leather now widely available, including those offered in the Toyota Prius and Nissan Leaf,” Mr Williamson added. “Jaguar has long offered synthetic leather and fabric options for all its vehicles. PETA urges all car manufacturers to make the responsible decision to ditch the real leather.”

But in recent years, the issue of leather heating up in vehicles has is a step further to being solved with the help of what Jamie Davidson describes as ‘cool leathers’. It is one of ‘various technologies’ to have come to the marketplace. 

These ‘cool leathers’ are named so appropriately thanks to their reflective UV finish technology

“We are also finding that the OEM’s are now not only producing heated seats but cooled seats as well,” Mr Davidson explained. “Here in Scotland, we don't encounter the problem so much!”

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