When is leather not leather? It's a question Toyota has had to answer in Australia.
Toyota has been accused by the ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) of misleading customers over the use of leather - and fake leather - in its cars.
The ACCC investigated claims over the use of the phrases "leather" and "all leather" to describe the interior upholstery between 2005 and 2009 and then the use of "leather accented" and "leather accents" from 2009.
Models affected prior to 2009 include the Camry, Aurion, Prado and Kluger, while all models post-2009 are affected.
Prior to 2009 Toyota used the terms "leather" and "all leather" to describe its interiors and the ACCC declared that to be potentially misleading to consumers.
"The ACCC is concerned that, as a result of Toyota Australia making the Pre-2009 Representations, consumers were likely to have been misled into believing that the entire interior upholstery of the relevant vehicles, or the entire upholstery of the relevant components, as applicable, were made of leather when they were not," the ACCC's findings read.
In 2009, Toyota began phasing in the terms "leather accented" and "leather accents" but that was still not good enough for the ACCC.
"...despite the adoption by Toyota Australia of the Post-2009 Representations in its advertising and promotional material, a number of Toyota dealerships continued to represent to consumers that the entire interior upholstery of the relevant vehicles the subject of the Post-2009 Representations, or the entire upholstery of the components the subject of those representations, as applicable, were made of leather when at least some of them were not," the findings said.
The ACCC did, however, acknowledge Toyota's co-operation in the proceedings and the company's efforts to now clarify the use of leather in its cars.
Toyota will no longer uses the terms "leather accented" and "leather accents" in its advertising and in dealerships.
Toyota issued a statement apologising for misleading any customers and will offer a $200 discount for any customer affected by the leather issue on their next purchase of a Toyota.
"In most cases everything that people sit on or touch is genuine leather in the affected vehicle models," Toyota's statement read.
"The areas where synthetic material is used are those that are more prone to wear and tear, such as the back of the seat and door trim. This helps make the areas easier to clean and wear more consistently."
Leather - and the increasing use of fake leather - has become a contentious issue in the car industry as car makers look to reduce costs.
While Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Ferrari and others still insist on real leather for all models, more mainstream luxury brands - such as Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi - are increasingly relying on fake leather, often with some interesting brand names.
Many Mercedes-Benzes, for example, have Artico "man-made leather", while BMW terms its leather Sensatec. "Leatherette" and "leather-like" are terms sometimes used to describe fake leather.
While many more affordable brands still use real leather on all or part of the seats, they're increasingly open to relying on cheaper fake leather.
Even the just revealed new Holden VF Commodore uses fake leather for the headrests and backs of the front seats.
-Fairfax News Australia
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