Scotland’s Bridge of Weir Leather has been pushing back the automotive design boundaries for years.  Its products are used not just in cars but a number of other products including seats in the House of Commons. Matthew Beecham talked with Jamie Davidson, sales director of Bridge of Weir Leather about leather trends in vehicle interiors.

just-auto: In terms of leather designs for car interiors, where do you get your inspiration from?

Jamie Davidson: Bridge of Weir Leather’s product development team includes the highly regarded designer, Susan Ross, who travels the world studying trends in diverse design and fashion environments. She then identifies any trends and sees how this might be applied in the world of automotive interiors. Susan, along with the product development team, then presents the concepts to OEMs.

What do consumers look for and want from their car interior, specifically the leather covering their seats?

The consumer has become more discerning about their car interior. They have, for example, their favourite soft sumptuous leather recliner at home and want something similar in their car. So we have to meet those demands developing softer more natural looking leathers with a good aroma.

What does Bridge of Weir Leather offer in response to each of those requirements?

Our own consumer research coupled to Susan Ross’ work gives us a good insight into what we believe the consumer wants. This we present to OEMs in a form that still meets their technical and aesthetic requirements.

As we understand it, a key trend that within five years is that more than 60 percent of cars will have lighter coloured interiors, which presents more of a challenge for keeping the seats clean.  How is Bridge of Weir Leather addressing that challenge?

The technical team at Bridge of Weir Leather are at the forefront of technical development into soil resistant leathers whatever the colour. We have benchmarked our leather against the competitors and ours performs best for soil resistance. Nevertheless we strive for continual development and improvement in this area and it is a priority for our technical team.

I guess leather and leather-look fabrics have always been classical materials used in cars and they are still very much a status symbol reflecting luxury and hence always favoured by customers. As some people down-size their vehicles, do they still want some genuine materials such as leather in their cars available as optional?

I can’t possibly comment on ‘leather-look fabrics’ – we make real leather! Leather is now widely available across the automotive spectrum and is no longer the preserve of exclusive vehicle interiors. Additionally the huge aftermarket demand to refit leather in cars demonstrates a desire for luxury and comfort as well as adding value.

To what extent is the use of leather spreading from seats to doors and instrument panels?

There is a shift in some areas toward ‘full leather’ interiors but it is expensive (the specifications for instrument panels differ slightly from seating leathers). We are working with some OEMs to develop cost effective solutions to increasing the amount of leather in the vehicle. Better utilisation can be achieved by including leather in smaller and less visible parts.

Is there a trend towards using leather in different ways? i.e. perhaps focussing on texture and finish, featuring details such as stitching, cut-outs, embossing, laser etching and mixing of leathers?

It’s a revolving trend but, yes, right now texture, whether it’s perforation, dimples, herringbone, embossing and embroidering are all out there. Haven’t seen much on the form of laser-etching but I’m sure it’s there! Contrasting textures are prevalent also.

In terms of the BRIC countries, are there notable differences in terms of consumer tastes for leather interiors compared to more developed nations? If so, how is Bridge of Weir Leather addressing those differences?

The European markets tend to be a little more sophisticated, demanding more technically complex leathers but with natural aesthetic and aromatic appeal. Less developed nations don’t yet appreciate leather that exhibits much evidence of its natural origin and neither do they like a noticeable ‘leathery’ aroma. That said, many of the European manufacturers are setting up plants in China to meet the demands of the Chinese market where European product demand is developing at an almost alarming rate. Bridge of Weir Leather has responded to this by setting up a joint venture in China, in 2009, to serve that market.