A while back, Tesla shifted all of their seat options to “Tesla Synthetic Material” which is not animal sourced, and therefore vegan. But there’s still one non-vegan material in Teslas: the steering wheel.
While it’s possible for customers to order a car with a custom vegan steering wheel, this is an off-menu item and Teslas do not come standard with it. Vegan customers often don’t know about this option, and will end up driving a car with a leather steering wheel because of it. Some don’t mind, but some do. And today, Tesla announced that the Model Y and Model 3 will both be entirely vegan, including the steering wheel, next year.
The commitment came in response to a representative from PETA who again asked Tesla to consider eliminating leather from the steering wheel in their cars.
CEO Elon Musk answered by saying that they currently have a design ready for a non-heated synthetic leather steering wheel, but that heated wheels are a harder problem to solve. He also stated that durability is a unique issue with the steering wheel because of all the various oils and other gunk that we carry around on our hands.
But at the end of the exchange, Musk seemed confident that the Model Y and 3 would be vegan by next year. The exchange went thusly:
PETA: “Can you confirm the Model Y will be vegan as promised?”
Musk: “Yes it will.”
PETA: “…and that all of Tesla’s products will be free of animal products by next years shareholder meeting?”
Musk: “Uh I’m not, there might be the tiniest bit left, I’m not sure, but Model Y, Model 3, I think I’m confident about that. We have a lot of things to solve but I think for sure the Model Y and the Model 3 soon and you can also special order for the S and X.”
Tesla also recently patented a new type of fabric, but it seems like this fabric is wool-based. Many vegans avoid wool as it is an animal product (though it doesn’t require the death of an animal). We don’t know if this new material is being counted as part of Tesla’s vegan pledge.
For any buyers who are worried about this because they traditionally prefer leather seats, Tesla’s vegan interiors have been on the road for years now and owners by and large are quite happy with them.
As with many of Tesla’s announcements, most owners won’t care about this, but many do. There’s certainly an overlap between electric vehicles and veganism, as both are less taxing on the environment than the alternatives.
The PETA representative made her case by stating that animal agriculture is the largest source of emissions globally before being cut off by Musk, not out of rudeness, but because he had already heard the argument before and was sympathetic to it.
It should be noted that while animal agriculture does produce more emissions globally than cars, that is largely because there are ~7 billion people on Earth who eat meat, but only about a billion cars. In the context of the US, a country where there are almost as many cars as there are people, cars do produce more emissions.
There are other environmental factors behind both cars and animal agriculture (the “long tailpipe” of car manufacturing and oil production, and the land use and antibiotic issues with animal agriculture, among others), of course.
But regardless of which is “worse,” these are two of the largest ways in which humans impact our environment, and two ways which are solvable. Tesla is working to solve one, and might as well work to solve the other.
There are some concerns that synthetic materials, which often use petroleum at some point in their manufacturing, don’t actually reduce emissions when compared to leather. The leather industry contends that it is for the most part a byproduct, and cows are grown for meat and dairy rather than for leather, so leather can be thought of as “emissions-free” whereas manufacturing for synthetic materials is not.
But if vegans don’t want anything to do with animal agriculture, then that would mean an end to leather as well. And if leather is another revenue stream for animal agriculture, then vegans would want to deny them that revenue.
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