Self-adjusting seats aim for the perfect fit
Pressure sensors and cameras replace as many as 22 controls
With as many as 22 controls, seats in a luxury sedan can befuddle the average motorist.
Not to worry: Automakers and key suppliers are developing self-adjusting seats that use cameras and pressure sensors to automatically fit the occupant's contours.
The seats may prove especially popular for luxury vehicles used as company cars because busy executives likely lack the time or patience to peruse the owner's manual.
Two leading seat suppliers, Faurecia SA and Johnson Controls Inc., confirm that they are developing self-adjusting seats.
The complexity of a luxury sedan's seat controls taxes the motorist's patience, says Olivier Boinais, Faurecia's senior industrial design manager for North and South America.
"For the past 10 years, we've been trying to simplify the [seat] adjustments while providing comfort," Boinais said. The initial market for self-adjusting seats "clearly is for an extended sedan that is chauffeured."
The Oasis seat's headrest is self-adjusting.
Sizing via video
Boinais did not identify the automaker that Faurecia is working with, although the company later confirmed that it is developing elements of its self-adjusting concept seat -- dubbed Oasis -- for a North American automaker's vehicle in 2015.
Another market for automatic seats may be long-wheelbase versions of the Mercedes-Benz S class, Audi A8 and BMW 7 series. These models are sold in Europe and the United States and are particularly popular in China, a big market for chauffeur-driven luxury cars.
The S class already has a driver's seat with side bolsters that automatically stiffen when the vehicle makes a tight turn. Now, Faurecia and JCI are taking the next step.
Faurecia is further along. The French supplier's Oasis seat adjusts itself to fit a passenger with aid of a video camera. (See story at right.)
Faurecia, of Nanterre, France, ranks No. 7 on the Automotive News list of the top 100 global suppliers with worldwide parts sales to automakers of $22.5 billion in 2012.
Too many controls?
JCI, the world's largest automotive seat maker, is early in the design of its self-adjusting seat.
Andreas Eppinger, JCI's group vice president of technology management, says the seat adjusts in two stages. First, the passenger indicates his or her height using a smartphone or cockpit console. The seat sets the headrest and leg rest accordingly.
Next, the onboard computer uses pressure sensors to evaluate the passenger's posture in the seat. The computer might recommend a different position, and if the motorist presses the "automatic" button, the computer sets the seat accordingly.
Eppinger says self-adjusting seats can quickly improve motorists' comfort.
"If you have ever tried to adjust a seat with 18 controls, it keeps you pretty busy," Eppinger said. "You can sit however you want, but if you are not sitting in the perfect position, you might regret it after an hour."
JCI, of Milwaukee, ranks No. 6 on the Automotive News list of the top 100 global suppliers with worldwide parts sales to automakers of $22.52 billion in fiscal 2012.
At a time when seat adjustments are proliferating, a self-adjusting seat seems likely to find a niche in the luxury market.
Given the dog-eat-dog competition among global luxury brands, stretched sedans with self-adjusting seats could catch on quickly.
You can reach David Sedgwick at email@example.com.