By Maneka Gandhi
Many years ago I spoke to the Mercedes people in India and told them to stop using leather for their car seats. They didn’t ban it, but they made it optional. Now, the responsibility is on the buyers.
Unfortunately, very few rich people use their money judiciously. The more they make, the more they want to show other people that they are better than them. And this “better” involves eating strange things: cancerous livers called
Pâté, pregnant fish eggs called Caviar, rare poisonous fish like Fugu. Killing old and blind wild animals while sitting on sofas: it’s called canned hunting in Africa. Wearing crocodile, snake and zebra skins. I could go on forever on how the rich spend their money to cause suffering and destroy the world.
One of the most common ways is leather seats in their cars. 75% of luxury cars use leather seats. PETA has calculated that 1.5 million car leather interiors are produced in a year. It takes 8 cow skins to make one car interior. 12 million cows are killed just for luxury cars in the United States alone.
Multiply that with the cars of Europe and the millionaires in India who love to show off (until they get raided).
These are the car companies that use leather: Subaru 68% leather. If the model does not have all leather, it uses leather trims on its seats, and so does Jeep 69%.
Chevrolet 70%, can use leatherette, but all the premium models use leather.
Ford 71%, uses cloth seats but their customers often insist on “upgrading” to leather.
Lexus 78%, has a leatherette option called NuLuxe if you ask for it.
BMW 79%, also has an option called SensaTec.
Volvo 98% and Porsche 100% have no options except partial or complete leather.
So does Landrover, and Audi is only leather.
Why do rich people aspire to dead animal skin or “leather”? The reasons given by the manufacturers and buyers are:
It gives a luscious feel and look. It is elegant.
It is stain resistant and resistant to smells.
It is easier to clean.
All three reasons are simply not true.
Luscious feels and looks are completely subjective, and nothing could be more inelegant than resting your bottom on dead animals. So we will go on to the facts:
Leather costs much more – up to $ 2,000 per seat. Not just the leather itself but, because it heats very fast in summer and retains cold becoming hard and cold in winter, it needs air-conditioners, heaters and seat warmers – raising the cost and increasing the unhealthiness of the car interior.
Leather has a peculiar smell. In order to turn cow and calf skin into leather, it requires several hundred chemicals, so dangerous that they kill all life in the waters in which the leather factories throw their waste. These chemicals seep out and pervade the air with their own odour. Get into a leather-using car: the smell is worse than cigarette smoke. In fact, all leather is soaked in the beginning in perfume (Hundreds of years ago the “English leather” smell was created for King George III’s gloves). Tanned hides smell awful and once the perfume wears off, the seat goes back to smelling awful.
Leather is extremely high maintenance. Body oil and dirt collect on the surface of leather and act like fine sandpaper, breaking down the protective chemicals on the dead skin so that visible cracks develop on the surface. No moisture is tolerated, so if you get in when it is raining, and you are damp, you can harm the seats and cause an even more putrid smell. Sweat, alcohol can do the same. Leather absorbs dirt and spills, vomit and chocolate spots, pus and nose goo, which means it can stain and become discoloured more easily. Leather is also easier to scratch, so it’s not a good choice for your vehicle if you have dogs, cats or children, unless you cover the interior to protect it.
Leather needs cleaning and conditioning every two months to keep it looking good. The cleaners cost as much as the seats. Some seats have to be taken off and given to a dry cleaner. Leather ages disgracefully. Nothing looks worse than worn out leather seats. Look at old shoes. That’s what the seats are going to look like in a few years, or even a few months, if you don’t keep conditioning them.
During the summer the seats can get hot enough to hurt you. If you leave the windows up on a sunny day the temperature in the car can exceed 200 degrees. This is because, unlike cloth, leather absorbs heat. Leather steering wheels can get so hot that they cause burns. It is impossible to immediately hold on to them, so air-conditioners have to run for at least 10 minutes before you can get in. In summer, leather seat owners have to use towels or cloth coverings. In winter, leather gets chilly and cold; so cold, that the car temperature goes down and heating has to be used – before you get in. While the top of the line cars have heated armchairs, the less luxurious models still do not include them. And that means that in winter you will have a “frozen” armchair, and in the summer, one that will practically burn you if you dare to sit down after leaving it in the sun.
When you first purchase the car, the new leather seats are very stiff. It takes months for the skin to become flexible and comfortable. By then it has absorbed so much oil and sweat that it needs cleaning with chemicals and then goes back to being stiff! It is certainly not as cushiony as cloth or non leather.
Leather is extremely heavy and adds to the weight of the car. If you want a performance car – and I presume rich people want to travel fast as well – this is not the weight you need. Most leather used for cars is not good. It has very little natural grain. The original hide of the cow was so scarred from the way it was treated that the tanner had to sand the skin down to make it even and scar free. The quality of leather differs depending how it’s sourced by each auto maker, so its durability is questionable.
Leather is very slippery. Every time you take a turn quickly, or have to stop at a red light, you will slide. Fabric grips better, so you slide much less.
Leatherette looks like leather (if you are obsessed with dead skin). Since it is made of vinyl, it isn’t porous, and spilled food or liquid can be wiped off easily. This makes it easier to keep clean, and looking new, without using expensive and harmful chemicals. Mercedes Benz and BMW have developed faux leather which is difficult to distinguish from real leather. Alcantara, which is becoming popular in luxury vehicles, is a type of ultrasuede made out of polyester. Nissan’s luxury range uses a soft material called Sofilez, which is much better than leather.
Look at the suffering leather causes. Cows and calves that are earmarked for car seats in the ranches are thrown and held while being branded on the face with burning hot branding irons. Look at the videos of Peta on YouTube on what happens in Brazilian ranches – the main suppliers of car seat leather. The video shows workers branding calves on the face, and electro-shocking and beating gentle cows and bulls. Their throats are cut while they’re still conscious and able to feel pain, and their skins are pulled off. A new animal entrant for the rich is lambskin. Is this pain worth your bottom-rest in a Jaguar, Toyota, Volkswagen, and Volvo?
If animal suffering and environmental pollution is not enough for you, look at your comfort. Do you want to own your car, or do you want it to own you? The extraordinary thing is that people in India, who have leather seats in their cars, will always put a towel cloth over them so as to preserve the leather and not get it dirty. So you never see it anyway!
Remember that saying “God has no respect for money. Look at the people he gives it to.”
(To join the animal welfare movement contact firstname.lastname@example.org, www.peopleforanimalsindia.org)