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25 July 2019  •  By: Perry Robb

Soybean cars or vegan interiors?

It’s generally recognised that Lohner – Porsche produced the first ‘hybrid’ car in 1898, then in 1906 the very first electric powered car was produced by Mercedes -Benz.

In 1941 Henry Ford invested millions of dollars and produced the worlds first ‘eco friendly’ prototype vehicle, known as the ‘Soybean car.’

Indeed over 12000 acres of farmland near his factory was dedicated to growing soybeans for this specific purpose.

The cars body and mudguards were built with ‘agricultural plastic’, consisting of a complicated mixture of wheat ,soybeans and corn, and it’s engine ran on hemp fuel.

At that time (1941 )  there was a significant shortage of steel for car manufacturing as the Allied war effort was in full swing, and Ford believed that this initiative could ‘combine the fruits of the industry with agriculture’.

This innovative project however, never really got off the ground, but now,nearly 80 years later the whole worlds car manufacturing industry is trying to outdo each other with ‘vegan options’ and ‘Eco friendly ‘ production procedures and initiatives.

Most car manufacturers claim to use ‘recycled’ materials in the production of both body shells and their car interiors – e.g. BMW say 80% of the i3 is made in this way, stating also the use of ethically sourced plants like the eucalyptus both as a fiber and as a cosmetic material. Even the seats are made from recycled plastics, and would you believe it – carpets are made from ‘recycled fishing nets!’

Major manufacturers in the Far East are using bamboo mulch, sugar cane mulch, and soybean mulch in the production of their vehicles interiors. ( Old Henry would be pleased ).

Nowadays , with the very vocal and well organized ‘Eco’ lobby, car manufacturers have quickly had to adjust to the market pressures.

The selling of cars nowadays has contain words like :- ‘sustainable’, ‘renewable’, and ‘Eco friendly’.

This has of course been music to the ears of the Marketing guys, and consequently we now see the emergence of the word ‘vegan’ closely associated with your chosen car, when the time comes to spec it up.

‘Vegan’ to a simple Irishman such as me, has always meant someone who chooses to exclude meats, eggs, dairy foods etc., from their diets.

Some also may also choose not to eat foods processed using animal products, such as sugar.

Fair enough I say.

Some years ago you could spec your Porsche with an ‘Alcantara’ upholstery rather than leather, and unsurprisingly it was fairly unpopular as most people associated leather seats with expensive cars ( with the exception of pure Track cars that is ).

Nowadays ‘Vegan’ is a buzz word on the manufacturers websites , in my opinion it’s meaning having been ‘modified and expanded’ by the marketeers to now sit alongside words and phrases like ‘sustainable’, and ‘petro chemical free car interiors’.

Most manufacturers offer a ‘vegan’ choice when ordering one of their products, and indeed , I understand Tesla do not offer any leather interiors in any of their models at all.

It used to be said that it took 15 cow skins to furnish the interior of a new Bentley, now even the Bentley Mulsanne saloon comes with a ‘vegan’ option for your interior.

( I wonder where all the cow skins will end up ?)

The cynic in me suggests that the  recent ‘Diesel Emissions  Scandal’ has taught us all be wary of any ‘high moral ground’ claims coming from the vehicle manufacturing industry and its suppliers .

I hope I’m wrong.