The weight saving aspect has to have appeal, especially for manufacturers building the super small, lightweight cars we're starting to see so hit the road. Kind of a funky look to the design, however. To me, it looks like a cross between a giant toddler car seat and some of those ergonomic office chairs that are popular today.
Beth: I thought the exact same thing about the toddler car seat. I'd really like to see a photo of it in the car itself to get a better perspective. How stable is it? Seems a car seat that conforms to your body (much like a foam mattress) may not be the best choice in terms of keeping drivers alert.
Mass has a quality, a feel. The lighter seats will save fuel, save manufacturing costs. But will they feel flimsy as you sit down in them? Will the seat back flex more? Will the seat require replacement after a crash because the thread inserts pulled out?
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).
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.
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.)
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.
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 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.
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,
With a better understanding of materials’ response to load and temperature, researchers could potentially use the knowledge to improve design. The research could even help geologists studying plate tectonics.
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