The steepest hurdle to leap for electric car manufacturers has historically been mileage: For decades, electric car companies have struggled to create sustainable cars that can travel for many hundreds of miles on long road trips without needing recharging. Now Mercedes has just unveiled a new electric concept car that offers both sustainable interior materials like cactus and mushroom leather, and vastly improved mileage. The VISION EQXX is expected to be able to travel 620 miles on a single charge – longer than most other cars on the road. It will be outfitted with cacti and mushroom-based vegan leather, solidifying it as one of the world's most sustainable cars yet to come.

Mercedes promises its new concept will be commercially available by 2024. Beyond the stylish roadster design, the company also intends to re-engineer its entire fleet to be eclectic by 2025 with the expectation that by 2030, all Mercedes cars will be fully electric. However, for now, the EQXX will propel the electric auto industry into a new set of standards. For comparison, a Toyota Prius can only travel 588 miles on a full tank of gas.

“Driven by the idea of zero impact on our planet and a highly responsible use of green energy, we inspired our engineers to go above and beyond,” the company explained in a statement.

Sustainable materials like vegan leather seats

While the EQXX boasts unprecedented mileage for an electric vehicle, the car is also equipped with some of the most environmentally-friendly materials on the market. The car will be built using mushroom fibers, food scraps, cacti, and other recyclable materials. The company partnered with the biotech company AMSilk GmbH to create door pulls that use its Biosteel fiber – a product created from vegan silk polymers that are both renewable and 100 percent biodegradable.

“We are extremely proud to partner with Mercedes-Benz on the technology program VISION EQXX, providing sustainable interior design solutions from our best-in-class bio-based fibers,” Chief Executive Officer of AMSilk Ulrich Scherbel said. “Amid a fresh wave of ambitious climate pledges, we are proud to be playing a leading role in providing solutions for a zero-waste future.”

Alongside the Biosteel vegan silk, the new Mercedes roadster will also use a self-titled material from the Israeli biotech startup UBQ. The UBQ material consists of landfill waste that will be incorporated into the interior of the car. The company also announced that the car will be rigged with solar panels to provide supplemental energy for electric systems including the touchscreen monitor, lights, and air conditioning.

The company will also employ two different sustainable leather materials from mycelium and cacti sources. The car uses several plant-based and sustainable materials that other vehicle manufacturers have previously dabbled in, but this car exceeds previous standards set with carpets that will also be made from bamboo fiber.

Mercedes’ concept car rethinks the sustainability standards for the industry, but other companies have started working towards the sustainable automobile industry. In late 2021, Volvo announced that it plans to remove leather from all its cars by 2030, working to replace the animal-based materials with more sustainable materials into the future. Car companies started switching the plant-based alternatives as consumer interest has significantly shifted towards sustainability. Findings from a Material Innovation Initiative study concluded that 55 percent of US consumers would prefer plant-based leather to animal-based counterparts.

Alongside Mercedes and Volvo, German car giant BMW invested in a vegan leather company with the aim of lowering its carbon emissions. The venture capital arm of BMW, BMW i Ventures invested an undisclosed amount into Natural Fiber Welding. BMW intends to build its cars using the biotech company’s leather, MIRIUM – a material consisting of byproducts from other industries.

“Natural Fiber Welding has developed an innovative process of converting plants into all-natural, 100 percent recyclable material that mimics all the properties of traditional leather, yarns, and foams,” Managing Partner at BMW i Ventures Kasper Sage said. “Having a scalable, cost-competitive alternative to leather with premium qualities is key to further advancing the decarbonization of the automotive industry.”

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