Leather has been used in cars for well over a century. The first motorised vehicles copied the seat cushions and backrests found in horse-drawn carriages, which used to be the main form of transport.

At first the covers were made from vegetable tanned leather without surface colouration, then made water repellent with oils and fats, just like saddles.

But very soon, the leather got a protective colour layer (pigmentation). This surface colouration made the leather more resistant to humidity and dirt. This kind of leather was standard until the 70s and 80s. It can be identified by the brown reverse side. The leather was not dyed through and was slightly firmer.

During this time, the English company Connolly was a very famous car leather brand. It was a hallmark of high-quality vegetable tanned leather. Sadly, the company no longer exists.

From this period, chrome became a more viable industrial process and very quickly replaced vegetable-tanned leather. Today, none of the major automotive manufacturers use vegetable-tanned leather. However, there are manufacturers such as Audi, Volkswagen and Porsche who prefer synthetic tanning instead of chrome tanning. Most experts find it difficult to see the difference between chrome tanned leather and synthetic tanning. The only way to distinguish between the two types, is to examine the leather in the laboratory.

Because automotive leather has a pigment finish with a urethane top coat, you cannot have distressed or naked finishes like the types of leather you find in furniture ranges. Also, because it is made to last for a long time, automotive leathers tend to feel stiffer and stronger to the touch. They are still very smooth, but not as supple in your hand. There is always a trade-off.

The automotive interior materials market has been classified based on type into genuine leather, synthetic leather, polymers, and others. Polymers are the most widely used type of automotive interior materials. Demand is increasing for lightweight and durable interior components. These polymers are used for the manufacture of various interior parts, such as dashboards, center consoles, door panels, etc. Due to strict environmental regulations, automotive companies are focusing on the overall weight reduction of vehicles to minimize carbon emissions, thus driving the demand for polymers in the automotive interiors market.

The proportion of leather in car upholstery has increased significantly in recent decades. In the luxury segment, there is hardly anything to consider apart from a leather interior. In 2015, 99.9% of all Rolls Royce had leather upholstery. Leather is now more of a standard even in the upper to medium price segment, which has had a major impact on the leather industry in recent years. The need for automotive leather has risen sharply compared to leather for shoesfurniture or clothing. From 1990 to 2019, global demand for automotive leather increased by 1,500%.

If a vehicle interior is completely covered with leather, it is called a full leather trim. But leather can be combined with lots of other materials. Over the years, leather has featured in car interiors with materials such as alcantara and imitation leather.

It is important to check which type of leather is included when buying a car. Most customers purchase a car with leather interior in good faith. However, the proportion of surfaces processed with synthetic leather is steadily increasing, even in luxury brands. Synthetic leathers look identical to pure leather surfaces, which is why customers should always check whether headrests, rear bench door panels, back of the seats are made from real leather. In most cases, even the sales personnel do not know which surface is covered with which material.

Also more and more car interior surfaces are processed with split leather. Since even the expensive vehicles are now often partly processed with artificial leather or split leather. If uncertainties remain, full details can always be obtained in the purchase contract. Many buyers would be surprised how little surfaces of the “Leather Interior” are actually covered with high quality grain leather.


                     Vintage car with metallic leather.     Vintage car with leather patina.

The automotive industry checks the quality of the leather very rigorously. There are an infinite number of parameters to be fulfilled by a modern automotive leather. Every manufacturer has their own testing standards.

Typical parameters of the tests: light fastness, rub fastness (dry / wet / alkaline), bending fatigue behaviour, colour adhesion, tear strength, vapour permeability, flammability, hydrolysis, haptic, climate change test, gloss degree, soiling, smell, squeak behaviour and fogging.

Because of these rigorous testing standards car leathers are very uniform. It is almost always single colour, surface-coloured smooth leather. This insensitivity affects the haptic.

The best overview of the various leather colours of the different manufacturers can be found at LEDERZENTRUM.

Even though most car leathers are very uniform, there are some exceptions among some manufacturers. Below you can see these features. The following description is not complete! You are welcome to send us pictures and information.

The best overview of the different leather colours of the manufacturer can be found at www.colourlock.com.


Car leather. (n.d.). Retrieved August 06, 2020, from https://www.leather-dictionary.com/index.php/Car_leather

Automotive Interior Materials Market. (n.d.). Retrieved August 06, 2020, from https://www.marketsandmarkets.com/Market-Reports/automotive-interior-materials-advanced-technologies-and-global-market-89.html

Muaddi, N., Says, Y., Yaya, Says, M., & Mike. (2019, December 22). Auto and Furniture Leather are Not the Same! Retrieved August 06, 2020, from https://www.thehogring.com/2018/06/18/hydes-explains-auto-vs-furniture-leather/

Author: moosa.nayeem