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Drivers of Change: Five luxury carmakers accelerating towards sustainability

The luxury car market is shifting gears towards a more sustainable future, prioritising renewable energy, electric vehicles and eco-friendly system design.

Words: Michael Stahl

According to the Australian Government’s Green Vehicle Guide, light vehicles account for around 11% of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. While carbon dioxide (CO2) is the main gas produced by cars, nitrous oxide and methane are also by-products of the average car. Naturally, the global automotive industry is looking for ways to reduce its impact on the planet. Namely, by integrating renewable energy, eco-friendly alternatives and sustainable system design into new vehicles – and electric vehicles are leading the charge. In the UK, new petrol– and diesel– fuelled (otherwise known as internal combustion engines, or ICE) vehicles will be banned from 2030. Hybrid vehicles, which combine ICE and EV propulsion, will be included in the ban from 2035. Luxury carmakers are ahead of the curve, demonstrating how small changes can have a big impact. Meanwhile, the European Union is taking a more tolerant view of energy and infrastructure capability. It currently intends to allow new ICE vehicles beyond 2035 – provided they use CO₂- neutral, synthetic ‘e-fuels’.

BMW i5 midsize EV sedan
BMW i5 midsize EV sedan

Rolls-Royce, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, Bentley and BMW commit to electric vehicles

These fuels, developed notably by Porsche, are produced from captured CO₂ emissions and hydrogen, processed using renewable energy. But even Porsche concedes that, by 2030, 80 per cent of its new models will be electric vehicles. The e-fuels are likely to remain as expensive, specialty fuels for customers such as Porsche’s large community of racing and classic-model owners. Most luxury brands are already committed, by 2030, to 100 per cent electric vehicle model ranges. Bentley has yet to launch an all-electric vehicle, but from 2025 will introduce a new electric model each year to 2030. BMW and Mercedes-Benz were both quick off the mark, and already offer a BMW ‘i’ and Mercedes-Benz ‘EQ’ electric alternative to almost all their ICE mainstream sedan, limousine and SUV models.

Mercedes- Maybach EQS SUV
Mercedes-Maybach EQS SUV

Meanwhile, the new Rolls-Royce Spectre is the first of many electric vehicles soon to be produced by the luxury maker. Powerful, luxurious and conscious, the 5.5-metre-long Spectre is near-silent and the 700-kilogram battery is integrated into the floor. Boasting a large battery life and two electric motors, Spectre offers a touring range between charges of 530 kilometres – a figure intentionally aligned with current petrol-engined models. Spectre is due to arrive in Australia in November 2023.

At Bentley’s carbon-neutral factory in Crewe, Cheshire, for example, more than 36,000 solar panels produce up to 75 per cent of the plant’s daily energy needs. Mercedes’ imminent SUV flagship, the Mercedes-Maybach EQS SUV, introduces a leather tanning process that replaces animal fat-based tanning agents with coffee bean shells. This new method has created a secondary income for coffee bean farmers, and a waste product that is used to make insulation materials and compostable flowerpots.

Rolls-Royce plant in Goodwood Estate, UK.
Rolls-Royce plant in Goodwood Estate, UK.

The future is green

The luxury market is where key acceleration towards sustainable practices and electric vehicles is most evident. Along with traditional comfort, safety features, connectivity elements and autonomous driving options, luxury cars boast some of the most advanced electrification developments within the industry. This cultural shift creates an opportunity for manufacturers to reinvent themselves and redefine the current understanding of luxury. Recycled materials and leather alternatives may soon characterise interiors, while electric motors and bio-fuels will become an expectation rather than an option, and factories will draw energy from renewable sources – the possibilities are endless and limited only by our imaginations.

This article originally appeared in volume 45 of Signature Luxury Travel & Style magazine. Subscribe to the latest issue today.

Read more:

The new generation of eco-friendly cars
Rolls-Royce releases first EV, Spectre
A review of the Ferrari Roma

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