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Does Your Luxury Electric Vehicle Have Rattan in It?

With customers throughout the world embracing electric vehicles (EV), the biggest challenge for those making and selling them is to set their brand apart. One EV manufacturer in China, Nio, plans to include something people commonly associate with hand-woven baskets. A material derived from rattan, which is a catch-all name for several species of climbing palms, will become part of the interiors of its brand-new ET7 sedan. The material will be brought in from Indonesia, where these plants are in abundance.

nio et7 cars
Nio ET7 cars on parade (Credit: Nio)

The Nikkei Asia website reports that Nio’s new ET7 sedan is set to pose a formidable challenge to leading players in the EV market. According to the report, the new sedan will have an effective range of 1000 km and automated driving features, which puts it in direct competition with the Tesla Model S. The company’s website for the new sedan describes the interior as “spacious, cosy, refined and human: a second living room”. And what’s part of the secret sauce? Karuun is a “high-tech” material derived from what the company describes as “renewable rattan from tropical rain forests”. This material will be molded into 14 interior pieces throughout the cabin, giving the car a natural feel, the company says.

The ET7’s luxurious interior is just one place where Karuun can be found. The German company Out for Space makes the bold claim that it is “pushing rattan into different dimensions”. Inspired by a trip to a Balinese craft store, the company’s co-founder Julian Reuter worked with his partner Peter Kraft to develop new ways of working with this traditional product. The aim was to develop a sustainable alternative to plastic, which is commonly made from a by-product of petroleum.

Out for Space, which was founded in 2015, registered the name Karuun for its rattan-derived material. The name comes from the Bahasa Indonesia expression “harta karun” or hidden treasure. Currently, the material is produced in four different forms which are suitable for particular applications. For instance, the Karuun Stripe product is meant for surface applications with its use of rattan’s natural grain as an aesthetic element. The company claims that companies in the automotive and transport sector have expressed interest in it. Mercedes-Benz, for instance, used Karuun for the interior of its 2020 EV concept, the VISION AVTR, alongside a vegan leather product for the vehicle’s seats.

mercedes benz vision avtr cabin
Interior of the Mercedes-Benz VISION AVTR (Credit: Mercedes-Benz)

While rattan furniture and other products have been a common sight in Asian households for generations, the use of rattan in the Western context is a comparatively recent development. For instance, in the late 1970s, German furniture designer Rolf Benz started selling sofas made with frames of rattan, which his eponymous company describes as part of a wider industry trend. Examples of this sofa are still being sold online. And in a move that predates Mercedes-Benz’s EV concept, Kenneth Cobonpue, a Filipino designer, came up with the Phoenix concept EV. First launched in 2011, the EV’s shell is partly made from bamboo and rattan.

As EV manufacturers and other companies begin to see the value of going green beyond the engine, rattan-derived materials may well become part of the mix. The challenge is making sure that rattan material production remains as sustainable as its advocates claim it could be.

  • Nio has launched its ET7 luxury electric car, which, apart from its exceptional range and automated driving features, uses a familiar material seen in Asian households: rattan.

  • The rattan-based Karuun material, which forms part of the ET7’s cabin, was developed by the German company Out for Space as an effort to create a sustainable alternative to plastic in various applications.

  • The ET7 is probably one of the first mass-production electric vehicles to use Karuun, but the material first appeared in a Mercedes-Benz concept EV in 2020.

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