DETROIT – They might not need the kind of body-hugging performance bucket seat that made Recaro famous, but drivers of electric vehicles, future car sharers and passengers riding in autonomous vehicles won’t want to give up supportive and safe seating.
That’s how Martin Klein, vice president-Recaro Automotive Seating, views future seating needs driven by trends toward electrification, ride-sharing and autonomy. And he sees a place for his company’s sport seating options in that mix in the form of the Recaro Performance Seat Platform (RPSP), a lightweight option that incorporates advanced construction, thin but comfortable foam, a low ride height and an array of comfort, connectivity and driver-monitoring options.
“The good part for the seat manufacturer is, independently from the propulsion system, you will need a seat to sit in,” says Klein, who joined Adient’s 106-year-old premium seating division last September from Mercedes-Benz.
While the division remains primarily focused on the driver and luxury and performance segments of the auto industry, he says the company is cognizant of mobility trends in mainstream brands.
“It’s about giving the driver better control over the vehicle – that’s what we strive for,” Klein tells WardsAuto. “As soon as there’s a demand for higher performance or safety, there’s room for Recaro.”
The company already has a stake in electrified vehicles – its seat design is employed by premium EV-maker Tesla – and Recaro is working with other EV manufacturers interested in its products. Recaro’s supportive seats make sense in vehicles with instant, sports-car-like torque, Klein says, but manufacturers also value the company’s ability to keep seat “block” height – the height from floor to hip point – as low as possible to offset higher floor pans filled with battery cells. The RPSP seat measures just 6.1 ins. (155 mm) from floor to hip point.
“Reducing block height is as hard as getting weight out of a car,” Klein says. “When you come from a background where you cater to a lot of sports vehicles, you are always focusing on low block height.”
In autonomous vehicles, safety is the key. Safety, along with innovation and comfort, rank higher in consumer awareness of Recaro than performance and racing, Klein says. That fits perfectly with the RPSP unit that can be fitted with myriad comfort features as well as smart functions such as passenger position and health monitoring.
“With autonomous driving, you don’t know which way the passenger is actually sitting in the car, so all the safety mechanisms of the seat, combined with the seatbelt, have to be smart enough to work properly, independent of the direction the person in the seat is currently facing when you have an accident,” he says.
Finally, there’s a vast market for Recaro in commercial vehicles and buses where drivers need comfort and support to log long hours behind the wheel. The company recently inked a deal to fit Volkswagen Group’s MAN CVs with Recaro seats and is working on other similar projects.
And at the end of 2017, Adient Performance Seats signed a joint-venture agreement with Shenzhen CSEMA Tech in China to handle aftermarket distribution of Recaro seats in the world’s largest and fastest-growing car market.
[email protected] @bobgritzinger