Good question about the comfort factor, Jim. The material that forms the cushion is 75% thinner. But the fact that the shell conforms to the person's body shape, like certain styles of office furniture on which it was based, is supposed to make it equally comfortable.
Jerry points out that a similar approach has been used in race cars. I wonder what the comfort factor is in them?
With the75% reduction of foam filler, and apparently also with no wrapped "upholstery" per se, (cloth, velour or even "Fine-Corinthian Leather") I wonder how it rides against your shorts on a hot day in August,,,,, I live in Ft. Lauderdale and my first impression said, "Hot & Sticky".
Many have done seats like this for decades aftermarket, racing, high end sportscars, homes, etc. Just big auto is finally coming around.
Eliminating steel isn't smart as every material has it's place. Some places like highest point loading areas, steel, other metals is best. Those places are becoming fewer and fewer as composites get better.
As a buyer of such seats much depends on price while keeping quality.
My 2wh Streamliner will need a great seat and 4-5 pint seatbelt to makes it's safety systems work as so light it will bounce around like a pinball in a crash, making airbags not good enough.
Recycling the plastic in the seat would be great. So far, to my knowledge recycled car seat materials have been limited to the fabric covering, or perhaps the cushion, but not the structural materials. Considering what can be done with recycling materials for bridge structures, as in the Scottish bridge I wrote about,
I think that a lot of the seat placement will trend with type of vehicle. Like Alex notes, these seats would look right at home in some of the plug-in electrics with boxy, funky designs. And the type of buyer gravitating towards those cars would likely see get the design appeal, albeit slightly quirky, and love the lighter-weight factor. But seeing this type of seat as a replacement for steel seats in musclely SUVs or luxury sedans--not so likely.
This is a great idea to use various plastics to produce seats with minimal steel. The best of both worlds would be to use a certain amount of recycled plastic in the seats. This would allow the seats to be "green" as well as lightweight.
I agree, TJ. As we've seen with electronics, automakers will gravitate toward features that appeal to customers, and they will flee in terror from any product deemed unappealing. A seat can have a huge effect on consumers and one of the problems is that we often can't tell if a seat is uncomfortable until we've spent many hours in it. As badly as automakers want to cut weight, you can bet they will test and test and re-teat these seats to make sure that customers don't find them unappealing or uncomfortable.
Those are good points, TJ, though notwithstanding the "flimsy feel" issue, I can see these seats immediately being adopted by makers of plug-in electrics. These seats would look right at home in a Mitsubishi MiEV (or one of those new Fiats sold in the U.S., for that matter. Actually, I don't think they could fit into the Fiat.)
Thanks for the comments everyone. Many plastics including composites can be created in a wide range of combinations of strength, give and stiffness/flexibility, depending on the app. Materials, and sub-assemblies made from them, that go into cars are researched and tested stringently, especially for crash-resistance and crash performance. And it's the frame, not the cushion or its foam, that adjusts to different sizes and shapes of people. So I doubt if there are any problems associated with either. But like TJ, I've wondered the same thing about how flimsy they may feel. OTOH, that's a relative judgment we make based on what we're used to.
This is a good show piece to promote increased use of plastics, but, like TJ, I'm skeptical about the viability of this outside the context of an auto show. The claim that it weights 20% less than a steel frame seat doesn't necessarily impress me, because I suspect it might be possible to take 20% or more out of the weight of a steel frame seat by using aluminum or by going to stronger grade of steel. (See Chuck's article about the Cadillac ATS, for example).
Two new technologies from Stratasys, created in partnership with Boeing, Ford, and Siemens, will bring accurate, repeatable manufacturing of very large thermoplastic end products, and much bigger composite parts, onto the factory floor for industries including automotive and aerospace.
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