An aftermarket leather seat manufacturer and one of its distributors have filed suit against Nissan North America Inc.
The plaintiffs claim that Nissan made false statements to its dealers about the effectiveness of the aftermarket seats so that the factory could gain a monopoly on the product.
Nissan claims the aftermarket seat covers can interfere with the proper functioning of airbag sensors that are in the seats.
The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Central District of California by Katzkin Leather Inc. of Montebello, Calif., and Sun Auto Tops Inc. of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
The dispute centers around a new federal law that requires automakers to install automatic airbag shut-off systems in all new vehicles sold in the United States by Sept. 1, 2006. These cutoff systems rely on sensors, primarily in the seats, to determine whether an airbag will deploy.
Nissan spokesman Kyle Bazemore says Nissan has recommended that its dealers not offer aftermarket leather seating in vehicles with side airbags and advanced front passenger airbags.
He says the airbag sensors could be affected by the aftermarket leather.
"Safety is the No. 1 concern for us," Bazemore says. "We will vigorously defend this lawsuit. We want to assure the safety of our customers."
Katzkin has been in business for more than 20 years and provides leather seat covers and leather door panel covers for more than 1,400 models, including most Nissan vehicles.
The plaintiffs claim in the lawsuit that tests show the sensors performed just as well with Katzkin leather seats as the factory-made seats.
The plaintiffs want Nissan banned from making similar statements about aftermarket leather seats. They also are asking for unspecified damages to compensate them for Nissan's actions.