Drive

This innovative seat concept could be the future of car design

Vehicle technology is constantly being improved, and it’s far more than just the engines and safety features.

Even seats come under scrutiny, and a new design under development could dramatically change the way car interiors are built. Called a loft seat, its modular construction is unlike anything being produced right now.

“We have seen modular concept designs in the past, and its day has arrived,” says Peter Cansfield, principal industrial designer for automotive supplier Johnson Controls, which developed the loft seat.

“This gives us the flexibility to meet what the customer wants.”

Most seats consist of a metal frame, cushions and a head restraint. These individual units are then bolted to brackets on the vehicle’s floor.

In contrast, the loft seat starts with a steel crossbeam that goes from one side of the car to the other. The modular seat components are then attached to it, allowing automakers the potential for a variety of seat configurations.

The company has initially designed the loft seat concept for a luxury sedan, using premium upholstery and a thin cushioning material called Super Resilient Foam, which creates more interior space while still remaining comfortable.

The seatbacks and cushions fold to reveal hidden storage spaces for cargo.

The concept seat also includes a multi-level centre console with a high armrest for comfort, along with wireless device charging, and cupholders that telescope out of the console to hold taller mugs when needed, but can be pushed back down and out of the way when they’re not required.

All cars contain steel beams, called crossmembers, that run under the floor to keep the chassis rigid, and to absorb and deflect crash energy in a collision.

The loft seat’s support beam works the same way, allowing the automaker to eliminate one of the lower crossmembers. This, plus the modular seat’s lighter weight when compared to a traditional seat, can potentially reduce the vehicle’s overall weight, which in turn improves fuel economy.

In future, Cansfield says, the seat’s support beam could be made out of strong, but even lighter materials, such as aluminum or carbon fibre.

The loft seat could potentially be incorporated into cars within the next five to 10 years but, because it is a structural component, it can’t be retrofitted to an existing vehicle.

“It could be any time within the next generation of vehicles,” Cansfield says. “You need to be in at the start of the vehicle architecture, and they would have to design the car around this.”

Sitting pretty

  • Although the loft seat concept was designed for large sedans, it has the potential to be adapted to almost any type of vehicle.
  • As with all vehicle seats, the loft seat would have to incorporate seatbelts and meet crash-test standards.
  • The company has also developed FreshPer4mance, a coating technology that keeps liquids and dirt from soaking into upholstery fabric.

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