By making race car cockpits safer, Lear Corp. hopes to translate those lessons to the business of making seats for mass production.
The supplier said it will begin testing a prototype seat this fall that is a direct carryover from its work in racing. The seat is designed to provide greater back support with a radically different shape.
The Southfield, Mich., supplier of seating and interior components is working with Brock Walker, a chiropractor who has developed several seats for motor sports teams. Walker owns TracTec Ltd. of Okemos, Mich., which he founded five years ago to build race car seats.
Lear will lend its expertise in materials and manufacturing to the partnership with Walker, who has committed to an exclusive working relationship with the supplier. Walker is an expert in the way body position and seating affect driver safety and fatigue. He said the partnership would share its research with any race team that expressed an interest.
Lear CEO Kenneth Way said the company's involvement in racing will pay off in new products and features for its main business. 'We firmly believe it's going to make Lear a better company in serving its customers,' he said.
Lear is the third-largest supplier of original-equipment parts to North America, according to Automotive News statistics.
The company is also hoping that its involvement in racing will make its name more familiar in some of its newer markets, such as Europe, said Dan Jannette, vice president of the technology division.
Lear will work with a dozen race drivers and focus on cockpit safety, he said. The company does not sponsor a car. At a press briefing in Detroit this month, the supplier released concept sketches of a racing seat that it plans to test in fall. The concept is the first to result from the partnership of Lear and Walker.
Several race drivers, who were in town for the Detroit Grand Prix, also were on hand to discuss the sport's greater interest in cockpit design and seat safety.