Changes are in store for the seat in your next car, some prompted by environmental concerns, some by new regulations and some, if designers get their way, just to improve the ride for back-seat passengers.
Johnson Controls Inc.'s concept slim seat would use existing materials but in a new way that would expose a polypropylene lumbar support within a bucket seat and free up nearly 2 inches of leg room.
``We're using existing materials and manufacturing, but we recombine them in a new way,'' said David Kingston, executive director of complete-seat product and business development of JCI's automotive unit in Plymouth, Mich.
The slim seat would remove unneeded polyurethane foam padding at the seat's back to create a space there for a rear-seat passengers' knees. Thin PU foam technology would still ensure a comfortable ride for those people sitting on the new seat, Kingston said during a Jan. 7 interview at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
The concept's profile followed trends in industrial design for structures and shapes seen on home furniture, office chairs and other popular products, he said.
``It has a real design aesthetic,'' Kingston said.
While the slim seat is a concept for now - with an earliest possible date to hit the market in 2010 - other new seating products already are making an appearance.
JCI has developed a new PU blend for its seat cushions that uses a 5 percent soy resin blend. The soy-based pad is slated for several 2008 model cars that will go on sale later this year.
The auto supplier molds more than 100 million pounds of urethane foam annually for its seats, creating the potential for it to use ``several million pounds'' of soy-based resin each year, said Charlie Baker, group vice president of engineering worldwide.
JCI also is rolling out new headrests in advance of a U.S. safety requirement created to help prevent whiplash from rear-end collisions.
The new regulation goes into effect in September 2008 and is intended to force automakers to use headrests that keep a passenger's neck in proper alignment even during a crash.
A typical headrest - with a blow molded interior structure and urethane foam padding - would have to be larger and tilted forward to meet the requirement, said Christopher Parker, product manager for complete seats.
JCI also has created a new system, called riACT, with a spring mechanism housed in an injection molded back plate to allow the headrest to move forward during a crash. The cushion would not have to sit as far forward during normal driving, making the seat more comfortable overall, according to Parker.
One European carmaker already is set to put the headrest on the market this year, he said.