Faurecia SA thinks it is close to making automotive designers' dream interiors come true.
For years, carmakers have unveiled concept cars featuring seats that were sleek and slim, with gently flowing curves and minimal padding, said Amit Kulkarni, lead engineer for innovation project management at Faurecia's North American operations. By the time they made it to production, however, those cars had the standard foam-filled seats in familiar shapes.
“This isn't because engineers don't like sexy seats,” Kulkarni said at Ward's Auto Interiors Conference, held recently in Dearborn. “It's because there is a limit with what can be done in steel stamping for the structural parts.”
Faurecia, with global headquarters in Paris and a North American base in Troy, Mich., has been pushing for a change in seating structures.
The company wants to use a plastic composite for seat backs along with minimal foam that can produce a safe seat that is an inch thinner than a standard one, and weighs in at more than 2 pounds lighter.
New tests on the composite concept also are showing the seat can stand up to federal crash requirements, Kulkarni said.
The composite seat has been developed with a compression molded structural back that can be more easily shaped to match the body's contours, compared with foam and wire used in a typical seat structure, Kulkarni said. That surface area will help eliminate some of the typical aches and pains drivers and passengers experience in long drives.
The material also can have a visible surface rather than covering it with laminate or textiles, Kulkarni added.
Thinner seats will become increasingly important as automakers try to shave weight and size from cars to meet improved fuel use requirements, while higher fuel prices also are likely to send more car buyers to smaller cars. However, those drivers are going to want the same level of comfort, said Pat Murray, the owner of consulting group Murray Design LLC of Bloomfield, Mich.
Faurecia is working on multiple thin-seat technology programs. German resin firm BASF SE is partnering with it on the composite seat program while a separate seating component research project teams it with Rhodia SA of Nanterre, France.
“This co-innovation project … represents a significant step toward the introduction of advanced polyamide materials as a credible alternative to steel for automotive on structural applications,” said François Hincker, president of Rhodia Engineering Plastics, in a recent news release.