Car Industry

Luxury cars should ditch wood veneers for cork, and here's why

Reducing our ecological impact doesn't just mean cleaning up what comes out of your car's tailpipe.

We'd take this look over fake carbon fiber-look plastic any day.

Hyundai

Making transportation more ecologically friendly isn't only about finding alternatives to fossil fuels or making things more efficient. It's also about changing the materials that get used in building cars.

Automakers are realizing this, and many are offering vehicles without leather and with low-VOC plastics, but there is still room to improve. That's why we were stoked to see a report from Automotive News published in August on a company that's looking at alternatives to using traditional wood veneers in a car's interior.

The company is called Seoyong and rather than using traditional woods, it's been pioneering the use of cork as a replacement. "But cork is a kind of wood," you're probably shouting at your phone as you read this on the toilet at work, and you'd be right.

However, harvesting cork from a cork tree doesn't kill the tree, and in fact, it grows back eventually, making cork a renewable resource. Even cooler, it's done totally by hand, so there's very little machinery adding to the material's carbon footprint.

Cork is harvested from cork oak trees in June and July only, and the harvesters use axes and adzes to cut into the tree and peel off the top inch or two of bark. The bark grows back, and the tree can be harvested again in nine years. The trees live for up to 300 years, so its bark can be harvested many times.

What Seoyong does with the cork bark is slice it very thin, less than a millimeter, and lays it over injection-molded plastic in several layers, much like a company would do with a traditional wood veneer. Once it's glued in place, they treat the cork with a water-based finish that preserves the unique look of the wood but protects it from water, scratches and UV damage.

Currently, Hyundai is the only manufacturer that we're aware of that's offered cork trim on its mass-produced vehicles starting with the Korean-market Azera Grandeur Hybrid. Given how much more affordable the cork veneer process is and how cool it looks, we hope more manufacturers pick up on it -- we're looking at you Volvo.

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