Wrap your head around this: Chinese people hate the smell of genuine leather.
Not all of them, of course, but enough that luxury automakers are actually demanding odorless hides to crack the market of 1.3 billion people, according to Automotive News.
In a recent article, the news website explained the smell we find infatuating is actually quite nauseating to Chinese drivers:
The problem has become so frustrating for premium automakers there that one U.K. supplier of the most luxurious hides employs a Chinese leather technician to help sniff out the problem.
“China is a tough market. They just don’t like the smell of leather,” says James Muirhead, head of international sales for Scottish leather firm Bridge of Weir. “As soon as someone manages to track down odorless leather, the China market is going to open up.”
According to the article, the smell we associate with genuine leather isn’t just the hide, but also the organic dyes and pigments used to treat it. When tanneries use synthetic dyes and pigments that scent isn’t nearly as strong. Part of Muirhead’s job is to seek out hides treated with synthetic chemicals so that they’re not so aromatic.
But until someone figures out how to create odorless leather, luxury car buyers in China are stuck choosing between real hides they may find repugnant or vinyl and cloth, which are nowhere near as luxurious.
Me? I’d choose leather any day. Then again, I find the smell captivating.