In redesigning its Sienna Minivan, Toyota Motor Corp. wanted a lighter material to help its customers who wanted an easier way to adjust seats. It also happened to create an industry first, which won a lightweighting award.
The automaker's new injection molded two-occupant seat back frame in the 2021 Sienna minivan, which goes on sale later this year, won the 2020 Altair Engineering Enlighten Award in the module category.
The project, led by Todd Muck, senior principal engineer for body design at Toyota, with help from its supplier partner BASF, reduced the normally 15-piece steel folding third-row seat back to one component, according to an Aug. 5 news release by Toyota. It also cut production costs by 15 percent and reduced weight by 30 percent.
"Reducing the seatback's mass provides the customer with several benefits," Muck said. "Less weight can improve fuel economy. Or, we can use that saved weight in other areas, such as adding new features like the built-in refrigerator."
The most apparent benefit, Muck said, is the reduced effort it takes for customers to raise the folded third-row seat from its stored area in the floor to its upright position.
"The weight of the seat really impacts … customer experience," Muck said at the Center for Automotive Research's Management Briefing Seminars Aug. 5. "This was a win-win, not only lightweighting the vehicle but actually affecting the customer's efforts directly.
"Our new design has made lifting the seats much easier," he said. "With the previous design, it would take more than 24 kilograms [53 pounds] of force to raise the seat. The new design requires less than 9-kilograms [19 pounds] of force."