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The future is sustainable, leather supply chain experts tell industry

In order to maintain its position in the most dynamic leather segment, the tanning industry will need to make leather that is more environmentally sustainable than ever before.

A car's interior.

Leather has a strong future in the premium and luxury automotive segments, heard participants at the recent ILM Automotive Leather Supply Chain conference in Paris. But in order to maintain its position in, arguably, the most dynamic leather segment, the tanning industry will need to make leather that is more environmentally sustainable than ever before - and adapt to major global changes taking place in the automotive industry.

On October 17 2016, 75 delegates from across the global auto leather supply chain, including chemicals’ and machinery suppliers, tanners, Tier-1’s and car makers, gathered at Le Meurice hotel to listen to presentations on key themes impacting the industry. Experts from global companies, including Lectra, Audi, Bentley Motor Cars, Faurecia Interior Systems, GST Seton AutoLeather, Wollsdorf Leder, Stahl and TFL, shared their insights with the audience.

Themes emerging for the environment covered: using less water; energy and chemicals used in leather making; the ‘cradle-to-cradle’ approach, recycling or up-cycling leather at the end of a car’s life; lower chemical volatile organic compounds (VOCs) inside the car; the move to more bio-based chemicals; greater yields through automation; and a switch from less corrected finishes to natural leathers. Lectra’s Roy Shurling highlighted the transformative potential of digitalization in the leather cutting ecosystem.

Millennials and megatrends

The next generation of consumers is different from the past, heard the audience as speakers traced the future. How? For example, greater urbanism and the switch to electric or hybrid-powered cars only used at weekends, compared to the sense of true ownership that people have with their vehicles today. And the next generation may be less interested in horsepower and more concerned about the actual ‘travel experience’ – where leather will have an important role to play.

Compounding this evolution is the movement towards ever more autonomous driving, where a journey simply becomes a programmed event in which the occupants use transport as an extension of the home or office, with the interior layout of each vehicle tailored to each customer. Or, alternatively, using Uber as an example, the consumer just uses the car in the future to get from place to place with no direct ownership.

More personalization means customization on industrial scale

In the short term, there is the growing trend in the car industry for greater personalization of interiors (and exteriors). More and more car makers are now offering thousands of potential options to customers. And this is not only exclusive to premium or luxury car brands.

In order to meet such demand, the leather supply chain will need to work faster and provide increasingly tailored solutions, producing custom-made leather parts on an industrial scale.