Tesla's interest in vegan options for its interiors (instead of leather) goes back to at least June 2015. That's when، during the annual shareholder meeting، the organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) asked that the electric-vehicle company become the first "cruelty free" premium automaker. Tesla rejected that overall request at the time، but CEO Elon Musk's ears pricked up، and he said he would look into offering alternatives to leather. That September، Tesla delivered the first Model S with synthetic leatherette in a color Tesla called Ultra White، as the Car News said.
In 2016، Musk said the Model 3 would be available with a vegan interior، and in the middle of 2017، all Tesla seats became available from synthetic materials. Nonetheless، there remained one part of the car that still came with actual animal leather: the steering wheel. Buyers could get a non-leather-material steering wheel made with plastic، but only if they knew to ask; it wasn't listed as an option.
This week، at the 2019 Tesla shareholder meeting—again at the behest of PETA—Musk said that the last vestiges of leather in the Model 3 and the upcoming Model Y will be removed with the inclusion of a new، synthetic-leather-wrapped steering wheel. One drawback to the non-leather steering wheel is that it is not currently available with a heating element. Musk said that another big challenge to building a reliable non-leather wheel is long-term wear.
"A steering wheel actually has to be very hardy،" Musk said. "We have a lot of oil and sweat and stuff on our hands، and it gets kind of nasty if you don't have the right surface treatments on the material. It's an easier proposition to solve for seats than it is for the steering wheel."
The new steering wheel will be released "soon،" Musk said. Musk also confirmed that the Model Y will be free of all animal products، and that it's likely that other Tesla EVs will be made without animal products in the future. He was not able to promise PETA that this would happen by the next shareholder meeting، which means we can expect another round in the fight in 2020.