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“Alcantara is Alcantara, Period,”

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Subaru enhanced its sporty WRX STI with Alcantara on center-seat insets, steering wheel and door panels with red stitching.(Photo by Thom Cannell.)

By Steve Purdy
The Auto Channel
Michigan Bureau


The tall Italian guy in the high-zoot suit at the front of the room is Andrea Boragno, CEO of Alcantara, maker of high-end lifestyle materials we’re finding many cars we test. This posh new meeting venue in downtown Detroit, formerly Chrysler’s Detroit Auto Show hospitality site when it was still a fire station, provides the venue for a collection of us auto journalists to ask questions about this unusual company and its unusual materials. We’ll be seeing more high-end Alcantara used in automobile interiors, high fashion, furniture and even on our electronics in the near future. So, we thought you might like the low-down.

The Alcantara material competes with leather and suede but weighs half as much, is softer and more breathable, entirely cleanable and it has greater versatility in color and texture. They call it “a lifestyle material,” and remind us no animal died to make it. Rather, it’s made from both natural and synthetic materials, a closely-held, multi-patented process that has been around for close to 20 years. You’ll find it in high-end cars as headliner, panel covering, steering wheels, seats, shift knobs . . . you name it. They really hate it when we compare it to suede, but that’s what you think it is until you look at it more closely and feel its elegant texture. The material can easily be embossed, colored and customized for just about any surface covering. Signore Boragno insists that designers love the “hand” of Alcantara, that is, its feel. He credits that for much of their success.

Some of our readers will recall a story we shared last summer about the Super Trofeo’ Lamborghini spec-series race at Road America where Alcantara was a sponsor. (See: Alcantara provides materials for the race car interiors and some of the best hospitality-tent furniture you can imagine. Since then we’ve reviewed a number of vehicles with Alcantara in their interiors . . . Cadillacs, Volvos and a variety of others.

Signore Boragno revealed they have embarked on a 200-million-euro expansion because their growth is being seriously limited by production limitations at their northern Italian production facility. They have only that one factory. They’ve experienced such strong growth for automotive products, particularly in China and the U.S., it is ever more difficult to pursue new customers. With a variety new markets opening in consumer products, like fashion, furniture and electronics, they must move quickly, he tells us, to be a major player in those spaces.

Another element of Alcantara’s claim to fame, is the aesthetic ambiance of being “Made in Italy.” Think Italian shoes, Italian art, Italian cars.

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Finally, it is the product’s “sustainability,” they tout as a differentiator. They’ve been carbon neutral since 2009, they say, and part of the company’s mission is to assure all their products are environmentally friendly “from cradle to grave.” Some of the raw materials are polymers, so they certainly have a carbon footprint, for which they compensate with carbon-limiting projects. Trying to stay on the leading edge of technology they’re using more biological raw materials, like cane waste, that do not encroach on the food chain.

Our host, Mr. Boragno, was only in Detroit for the day, just to talk to us. I tried to interest him in coming back when he had time to enjoy what Michigan has to offer. But, I expect he has too big a job ahead to spare such time, as he tries to manage limited supply as the demand expands for Alcantara.

© Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved