Riding Along In My Automobile

by Dennis Machicao

The big push for car companies now a days is touting their energy efficient products whether they be hybrid, all electric or increased gas mileage for their regular models. All well and good for the environment but one accessory that every car has that gets little attention is the interior and the materials that are used to manufacture those interiors.

Emphasis is on the design but what are the materials used to create them.  After all, the interior is what you most are in contact with when either driving or riding as a passenger in an automobile. What are you sitting on? What are you breathing in?

It seems that some car manufacturers are not only thinking about mileage but are considering what they use to build their cars’ interiors and how they affect the environment through its complete life cycle from showroom to junk yard.  Plastics are the material of choice for dashboards, steering wheels, and fabrics for seat cushioning and coverings, roof liners and carpeting.

As an example, according to discovery.com, two car companies that have started to manufacture a greener car are Toyota and Ford.  Discovery.com states that in 2011 Toyota introduced models with interiors made from 80 percent biologically derived plastic, usually sugar cane or corn instead of using polyurethane foam, a petroleum derived material, for arm rests, stuffing in car seats and head cushions.

For 2011 Ford uses 40 percent soy foam for their Explorer model that Ford claims reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 11 million pounds annually. For their fabrics, Ford uses fabrics made from recycled materials derived from post consumer plastic bottles and postindustrial plastic waste. DaimlerChrysler have started using flax and abaca fiber.

For those cars that have leather interiors, car companies are experimenting with vegetable tanned leathers rather than tanning with chromium sulfate that gives that “new car smell” that can be toxic during its lifetime.

Other car companies, like Honda and Mazda are also getting on the bandwagon in using plant based fabrics for their interiors. So why when a TV car ad is produced, these green innovations are not mentioned? Gas mileage is important, but so is the materials that a product is manufactured with and how that will impact the environment.

The automobile industry is evolving and taking more into consideration what the inside of their cars are made of. I would think a greener interior along with increased mileage, whether by hybrid, electric or a more efficient engine would be an additional selling feature they would want to point out and thus targeting an environmentally concerned consumer.

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