The quest for sustainability in ŠKODA cars

The quest for sustainability in ŠKODA cars

Sustainable materials are increasingly finding their way into the world of car production. ŠKODA is true to its tradition of innovative solutions in this respect. And the quest for sustainable materials sometimes throws up surprises.

27. 7. 2021 Škoda World Design

Recycled materials, natural fibres, but also new paints, surface treatments and new ways of working with leather – these are all new avenues that the designers in the Color & Trim department are trying out as part of their efforts to create sustainable cars.

“We want to use recycled, waste and natural materials, for example, but sustainability isn’t always as clear-cut as it might seem. It’s surprising how some recycled materials can make a more significant contribution to global warming than solutions using virgin raw materials. That makes it necessary to carefully consider all the pros and cons in each specific case,” explains Kateřina Vránová, head of Color & Trim, one of the pitfalls of the new trend. Recycling alone does not automatically mean that a given material is more suitable in terms of sustainability.

katerina-vranovaKateřina Vránová
Head of Color & Trim

This is confirmed by Stefan Webelhorst, the Color & Trim employee in charge of coordinating sustainability with other ŠKODA departments. “Right across all the company’s departments we are looking for ways in which we can make our products more responsible and environmentally friendly. But sometimes a seemingly straightforward path doesn’t actually lead to the desired goal,” says Webelhorst. And he gives several examples. “For example, synthetic fibres such as polyester are very easy to recycle. It can’t be recycled forever, but it’s better than natural fibres, which can also be recycled but have to be cut up or sliced, whereas polyester is melted. Cutting changes the quality of the material and therefore its usability for specific purposes, whereas with polyester the material can be recycled many times over,” says Webelhorst.

ŠKODA designers from the Color & Trim department present their ideas with the help of armchairs and vases of various shapes, for example.

The design of products made from environmentally friendly materials therefore needs to be considered in a broader context: not only in terms of the specific application, but also the subsequent recycling possibilities. “Today, for example, we can use recycled and recyclable materials for seat covers, but that further recycling is actually not easy or even possible at the moment because of the construction and the materials underneath the cover. So we are working with the development department on a new seat design that will make recycling easier,” says Webelhorst. 

Stefan-WebelhorstStefan Webelhorst
Color & Trim specialist

The entire cycle of material acquisition, production of a specific part and subsequent recycling or disposal must also be taken into account, he says. “For example, PVC is a material that is basically not recycled, it’s too energy intensive. On the other hand, though, its production is easy and the carbon footprint of a PVC part can even be significantly lower than that of a natural fibre part,” outlines Webelhorst. 

Equally important is the choice of the right natural material: waste products or crops that can be easily grown are ideal. “Cotton is unusable for us. Not only is it flammable, but it takes a huge amount of water to grow it. The likes of hemp or flax, they are much better materials for us,” explains the designer. 

Even leather is environmentally friendly

Similarly, there’s no need to turn away from traditional materials like leather. Not only is it recyclable – and ŠKODA is already working on a solution for using recycled leather – but it is actually a material that meets the sustainability principles. “Leather used in the automotive industry is essentially waste from the meat industry. Cows are not bred for their skin, but for their meat, and the leather would otherwise go to waste, so reusing it makes for a more efficient cycle,” says Markéta Kalíková, who is in charge of working with leather materials at Color & Trim. “However, we do understand that leather is an unacceptable solution for some people in terms of personal beliefs,” she adds. ŠKODA has a range of alternatives for these customers too.

Marketa-Kalikova-copyMarkéta Kalíková
Color & Trim specialist

A separate issue is leather tanning, which has moved towards natural and environmentally friendly methods. As an example, Kalíková points to the olive extract tanned leather offered for the ŠKODA ENYAQ iV.

One trend in car interiors is designs derived from home interior styles. Designers experiment with day-to-day objects and décor that can be found in living rooms.

Coatings and foils

The designers are also looking at innovations in the field of paints and various surface films. These solutions may seem to have nothing to with sustainability, but this appearance is deceptive. For example, ŠKODA is preparing to make increased use of a special coating to replace chrome. The production of chrome-plated parts is relatively energy-intensive and challenging. 

“Chrome features are popular, but the use of chrome is being reduced. From 2024, the EU is banning the use of hexavalent chromium, although trivalent chromium with slightly different properties can be used,” says Peregrina Iglesias, whose speciality is the application of paints and varnishes and special effects achieved with them. 

Peregrina shows, for example, objects with applied layers of varnish that have a very specific texture or graphic design. A painted part, especially an interior one, can be given a random pattern of coloured droplets, or a coating with a surface texture resembling rough paper. Consequently, the coating can give decorative parts, such as mouldings, a completely new tactile quality. 

Peregrina-Iglesias-copyPeregrina Iglesias
Color & Trim specialist

And how do these coatings contribute to ecology? Apart from the use of more environmentally friendly varnishes themselves, the main point is that the coating can be applied to a variety of materials. That chrome effect or aluminium effect can be given to plastic parts that are cheaper and more efficient in terms of carbon footprint. Or even a part made from recycled material that could not otherwise be used as a decor surface.

Paint lets you create a gradated colour finish.

But this is mainly the domain of foils. “We can take various decor parts to a new level with IMD foils,” says Lada Dlabolová, who works mainly on plastic parts with a surface structure. The foils are applied, for example, to plastic mouldings, where the plastic itself may already have some structure and the foil may also have graphic features, so the combination of the two creates an unexpected effect. “In the basic version and in the better trim levels, we can then have the same part, just once without the film and a second time with the film, evoking a greater sense of value,” says Dlabolová. 

Lada-Dlabolova-copyLada Dlabolová
Color & Trim specialist

Compared to paint, foil has the advantage that it can be used to add a regular structure to the surface of a part, whereas paint is the domain of random effects. In addition, foil reliably covers optical imperfections in materials, such as those made from recycled natural fibres. “Until now we couldn’t use that kind of material for decor surfaces, but now foils allow us to do so,” adds Véronique Favia, a specialist in patterns on foils.

Veronique-Favia-copyVéronique Favia
Color & Trim specialist

“Many of the techniques and solutions we have presented are now ready for mass production without any problems, and some of them have already been implemented,” says Kateřina Vránová. Consequently, she says, maximum sustainability in ŠKODA vehicles is within reach and not a distant goal, although it will be achieved gradually.