Alcantara – Porsche’s fake suede

If you own a GT2, GT3 or GTS, you’ll be familiar with Alcantara – a hard-wearing suede-like material. A Facebook friend in Hong Kong, Jimmy Lee, recently posted the following information about Alcantara, and he has kindly allowed me to share it here. This is what he says:

Alcantara was first applied on cars around 20 years ago in a Lancia Thema’s interior, an idea of the car designer Giugiaro of ItalDesign.

The suede like microfiber composite material was developed in the early 1970s by Miyoshi Okamoto, a scientist working for the Japanese chemical company Toray Industries. With the patent, Toray later joint ventured with a large Italian chemical company ENI and formed Alcantara S.p.A. in the Umbria region of Italy to manufacture the material.

The material was developed early in the suede-crazy 1970s for the fashion industry and not intended specially for automotive applications. Nowadays, though, carmakers buy about 2/3 of the total production of 2.5 million square metres each year.

Why is Alcantara the ultra material of choice for special sport cars, in particular  lightweight versions? The answer is that Alcantara weights only half of leather. The interior of the new Ferrari 458 Speciale is a good example; the car is 90kg lighter than a 458 Italia, and part of the reduction is because the cabin is trimmed in Alcantara from door to door and instrument panel to engine compartment bulkhead.

Alcantara is consistent, durable, stain-resistant and grippy. And it breathes. It is rapidly replacing leather for car interiors, which is good news for cows, because a cow hide will only yield about one square metre of unblemished, high-grade leather. The suede like texture is made from polyester and polyurethane, converted into fine filaments – so fine that a single gram would stretch almost a hundred kilometres.

Today the largest buyer of Alcantara is VW Group and Audi is the heaviest user among car brands.

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