Automotive supplier Faurecia SA is confident that its thin, lightweight composite seat will go into mainstream production soon, and now is looking ahead to new and even lighter-weight versions for the future.
The Paris-based company expects to begin production of its all-composite back rest — with plastics replacing steel as the structural support for car seats — in 2014, executives said during an interview at Faurecia's North American headquarters in Auburn Hills. The company is showing two different variations on composite seating that could be a further step beyond 2014.
Both versions push seating using plastics, said Michael Miner, product line manager for seating in North America. The concept “Performance Seat” combines a composite framework supporting a more flexible shell, with the shell being similar to office chairs. The “Premium Seat” concept takes advantage of the injection molded composite back to integrate wiring and housings for entertainment systems and other upscale improvements.
“This is taking it to the next level, where we think it's going,” Miner said.
The concept uses advancements in composite molding technology with continuous glass-fiber reinforcement in nylon for the outer frame, he said. The frame provides the support required in crash tests and cradles a thin and flexible seat area within a “compliance shell.” The shell takes its design cues from office furniture with flexible thermoplastic support, and improves comfort without 75 percent of the foam used in today's cushioning in car seats, according to Faurecia.
Both the frame and shell are visible, with the structure providing an architectural element to the auto interior.
Faurecia is working with BASF SE to develop the frame materials and Rhodia SA on the cushion.
The premium concept, meanwhile, not only makes it easier to add items like a video screen to the back of the injection molded seat, it allows users to fine-tune heating and air conditioning by molding duct systems into the seat.
Currently, the only heating and cooling available in seating is built into cushions. Faurecia would bring in tubing to funnel hot and cool air through the seat structure, allowing the driver and passengers to create “micro climates” at each seating area without needing to heat or cool the entire interior to one level.
Faurecia's Prêt-à-Porter (“Ready- to-Wear”) concept interior, first displayed at the LA Auto Show in November, also creates a new look for heating and cooling ducts. Rather than the standard louvers seen in instrument panels now, the concept uses curving lines and the Coanda effect to direct the airflow — the same principle used in bladeless Dyson fans. Sculpted outlets around the reconfigurable instrument cluster and above the glove box provide a new look, said Jay Hutchins, director of marketing and product planning.
The interior is intended to show a range of design styles that automakers could use — swapping out surface skins, wood or aluminum veneer, or molded-in-color plastics — to provide a variety of looks to their interiors while retaining similar substrate structures beneath them, reducing overall costs.
“We're looking for opportunities to take a look at the whole package early and work with [carmakers] and let them know that we have the technology on the shelf that we can pull off and help them with their future products,” Hutchins said.