High-end auto seats are starting to resemble airplane seats in some ways, and not only because they're luxurious and they recline.
The trend will accelerate as autonomous vehicles take hold, said Detlef Juerss, chief technical officer of seat supplier Adient.
The challenge will be giving the vehicle seats the added control functions they will need in the new era.
"To achieve functionality comparable to a good business-class seat is a huge undertaking," Juerss told Automotive News in advance of a presentation Monday at the seminars. He said the trend toward increased luxury with greater control will also reach into mass-market brands.
According to Juerss, auto seats and airplane seats are converging on several fronts:
Belts: As fully autonomous vehicles come on line, occupants will want to move their seats, maybe facing backward or reclining to take a nap. As a result, seat belts will need to be attached to the seats, rather than to the vehicle's B-pillar.
Anchoring: If seat belts are attached to the seats, the seats will need to be anchored to the floor to ensure safety. But occupants will want to move their seats. One potential conflict is that electric vehicle manufacturers plan to put their battery packs directly beneath the floor, so seat architecture will have to address limits to floor modification.
Materials: A big part of emerging ride-sharing concepts is extracting the value by keeping the vehicles rolling. That means seat fabrics must endure more wear than they do today. And with many occupants rotating in and out of a shared vehicle, seats will need to be easy to clean, remove and reinstall.
Lightweighting: Juerss said making seats lighter is a must, regardless of whether alternative powertrains and autonomous driving catch on, because of fuel economy regulations. "The whole lightweighting topic today is probably driving 10 to 20 percent our r&d," Juerss said.
On the positive side for seat makers, Juerss said no matter who or what drives them or how they're configured, cars still need seats. The component is clearly evolving — but unlike many vehicle components, seats are in no danger of becoming obsolete.
"There will always be seats," he said, "unless somebody invents beaming up, like in Star Trek."