Making a prestige German car calls for an obsession for attention to detail with Audi now only selecting leather from bulls rather than cows to achieve the required upholstery standards for the 36,000 premium cars it will sell in the UK this year equipped with leather seats.
As many as 40 per cent of UK Audi customers specify real leather thanks to the company’s very high quality interiors achieved with soft and supple leather sourced only from bulls. Hides from cows are too small and less homogenous and do not meet their stringent quality standards.
The very high standards required for its customers start from when Audi selects its materials. Each hide destined for an Audi is divided into three quality zones. The best piece is the back area (croupon) where the grain is particularly even with cracks or scars due to injuries rare. Audi discards the outermost region of each hide again for quality control reasons.
The very high grade leather from the core of the bull’s back is used in all areas of a car seat where fine, smooth appearance and high robustness are most important – on the headrest, in the shoulder area, in the important lower seat squab area and on the side bolsters and seatbacks on the entry side.
The scent detectives – the Audi Nose Team
What is more, the legendary Audi attention to detail also ensures that the hides actually smell nice once installed. Audi’s remarkable Nose Team was formed in 1985 to combat potentially offensive aromas inside its cars. The six-member Nose Team cuts small pieces out of the materials to be tested – for example wood inlays and the leather upholstery used for the seats.
Leather specimens are each placed in a standard canning jar equipped with an odourless gasket. An oven heats the sealed jar to 80 degrees Celsius for two hours. Each tester briefly sniffs the contents of the jar, reseals it and passes it to his or her colleague. Each team member writes down their grade in secret.
The Audi Nose Team also examines complete components such as dashboards and also a car in its entirety. The “professional sniffers”, who analyse approximately 500 different components from the passenger compartment for each model, are chosen by virtue of their particularly sensitive noses.
Smoking is prohibited for these valued experts, while a cold, for example, can stop a team member from working. These experts also must not give off any scents of their own during testing – whether it be perfume, shower gel, after shave or maybe even garlic.
45 Leather Tests
In a pioneering move for the World’s car industry, Audi stopped using chromium salts for tanning hides as long as 15 years ago. The multiple stage leather tanning process is followed by 45 tests to determine the durability of the leather. Samples are mounted in automatic fixtures, which show that they expand evenly, where they begin to tear, when they begin to develop wrinkles and how resistant they are to abrasion and fire.
Audi is celebrating its centenary this year with the ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’ brand recording a century of fitting real leather into its cars. Times have changed, technology has advanced, but the basic raw materials remain the same as they were as long ago as 1909 when the first Audi was produced.