Monday, July 8, 2013

Eco-eager automakers hype sustainable wood in cars

Patrick Connor, left, and his brother Ed, look over the interior of the Fisker Karma electric car in Wilmington May 22, 2010. / SUCHAT PEDERSON/THE NEWS JOURNAL
Having created zero-waste factories, recycled plastic upholstery and low-emission hybrid engines, automakers are opening a new front in the drive to appear eco-friendly – “sustainable” wood interior trim.
Instead of searching the world for exotic woods, long a mark of elegance in premium brands, some are turning to suppliers who dredge rivers for old logs and use fast-growing woods such as bamboo or eucalyptus to create the wood trim pieces that surround drivers and passengers in luxury cars.
The move avoids criticism for automakers that while their new fuel-saving engines are cutting carbon emissions, their choices of interior trim could destroy endangered old-growth forests. The trend is especially seen in cars billed as eco-friendly, like hybrids or electrics.
Sure, the total amount of veneer in the cabin of a typical luxury car might not add up to as much found in an old dining-room chair, so the effort is mostly symbolic. But it’s good business: sustainable wood trim adds another little feature that makes buyers feel good about their purchase.
“Every little bit counts in terms of manufacturers trying to raise awareness,” says Roland Hwang, transportation program director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which is active both on clean-car and forest-protection issues. “It shows there is a growing market for sustainable products.”
What some automakers are doing to splinter off from the competition:
Bamboo. To underscore the sustainability aspect of its new Lexus hybrid sedans, Toyota chose fast-growing bamboo for the luxury cars. It’s one of the wood choices in both the mid-size ES 300h and flagship LS 600h L, and it’s the only wood available for trim in the sporty GS 450h. “It’s a light, almost bleached wood,” says spokesman Bill Kwong. It can be found on both the steering wheel and dashboard.
Eucalyptus. BMW’s i3 plug-in electric car will have swoopy wood panel across the top of the dashboard made of euchalyptus. It’s being culled from “certified sustainably managed European forests and treated using natural materials,” BMW says.