Was Tesla the First Car Company To Use Vegan Leather?

Tesla’s decision to move to vegan leather in their cars was big news in 2017, but were they the first to make the switch? We’re taking a quick look at the history of vegan leather and its connection to the car industry.
Written by Hannah DeWitt
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
The vegan movement has been gaining ground, with millions of people globally advocating for a vegan lifestyle. It was only a matter of time before veganism trickled into the automotive world. Only recently did the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) pressure
Tesla
to ditch the use of animal leather in its cars' interior and replace it with vegan leather. 
While PETA rejoiced in influencing the EV maker to
modify its cars
, it begs the question: is Tesla the first car company to use synthetic/vegan leather in its vehicles? In this article, we'll try to answer that question and even have a deeper understanding of what vegan leather is.

Tesla gets accolades for using vegan leather seats in its cars

In its activism against animal cruelty,
CleanTechnica
highlighted that PETA has been pressuring the automotive industry to stop using animal leather in their cars' interiors. It argues that the animals used for leather production are usually subjected to agonizing deaths. Using synthetic leather would alleviate such inhumane treatment of animals.
During an annual shareholders' meeting, PETA had the chance to question Tesla's celebrity CEO, Elon Musk, whether he thinks it would be possible to start using vegan leather in its cars to set an example to other car manufacturers. Responding to its concerns, Elon confirmed that the company would introduce all-white synthetic leather seats, starting with the 2017 Model 3 and Model Y cars. 
Tesla's move to use cruelty-free leather in its cars' interior trimmings earned it praise among PETA members globally – over nine million strong. It gave PETA a stepping stone in its course to get the likes of Ford, Mercedes-Benz, and Volkswagen to follow suit. But other automotive critics believe it's a well-orchestrated market marketing stunt to further popularize Tesla. 
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What is vegan leather?

According to
PETA
, vegan leather is made from polyurethane—a polymer used to create fabric used in making a wide range of products widely used in the design industry. It can also be manufactured through other innovative and sustainable manufacturing processes using plant materials, such as fruit waste, pineapple leaves, cactus, apple peels, and recycled plastic. 
Synthetic leather is not novel. The Chinese used synthetic, leather-like fabric in the 15th century. Fast-forward: in 1846, French scientist Louis-Nicolas Menard turned gun cotton into synthetic leather called Collodion, which became popular in the West. However, vegan leather hit the mainstream in 1910 when DuPont made Fabrikoid by combining cotton cloth and nitrocellulose.
After being used in several industries to make suitcases, book covers, and upholstery, the automotive industry embraced the use of Fabrikoid in 1914. Many automakers used it for automotive car tops and interior linings. Its rise in popularity in the car industry was primarily because it offered a durable, low-cost, and cruelty-free alternative. 

Car companies that used vegan leather before Tesla

From the above information, it's evident that Tesla wasn't the first automaker to use synthetic leather in its cars, and PETA's activism against animal cruelty in the automotive world was a war that was won years ago, though the victory was forgotten. In fact, during the mid-1800s, the Ford Motor Company rolled out over 130,000 Model Ts with vegan leather interiors.
Alcantara, a car-interior customization outfit, also uses suede-like faux leather in the interiors of high-end performance sports cars like the million-dollar twin-turbo V8 Ferrari P80. But Alcantara is a brand that earned its popularity in the ‘70s and ‘80s, upgrading the interior fittings and upholstery of off-road Lancia rally vehicles and other endurance racers. 
Furthermore, car companies like Audi and Fiat utilized Alcantara interior solutions in their cars back in 1978, two years before PETA was formed. With that in mind, one is left wondering: why did more companies not use these resources sooner?

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