Automakers adjust seats as Americans become wider - Mercedes-Benz Forum

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Automakers adjust seats as Americans become wider

Automakers adjust seats as Americans become wider

DETROIT -- Americans are getting wider, but cars in America aren't, nor are their seats. So, automakers displaying vehicles here at the North American International Auto Show are taking a cue from luxury brand Rolls-Royce.

They're making the seats more like chairs, less like catcher's mitts, and beefing up the support.

A recent informal survey of used cars in suburban Toledo and comparisons with vehicles on display in Detroit yielded some examples.

For instance, at its widest point, the seat of a 1999 Lexus RX crossover is 21 inches overall. The flat strip between the rounded thigh-side supports on the edges is 12 1/2 inches. For 2008, those dimensions are 21 and 11 1/2.

In a 2004 Mercury Sable, the widest point overall was 20 inches, and the flat center strip was 11 1/2 where it met the seat back. The 2008 dimensions are 19 1/2 and 11 1/2 inches.

And that Rolls-Royce? The seats on the two Phantom models to be at the Detroit auto show are 22 inches at the widest point, narrowing to a generous 14 inches.

Seats are designed by automakers in cooperation with outside suppliers, one of the largest of which is Johnson Controls, which produces seats for the Jeep Liberty and Dodge Nitro sport utility vehicles. Part of the supplier's laboratory at its automotive headquarters in Plymouth, Mich. is dedicated to the study of the human form.

The growing heft of that form was central to creation of seats for Chrysler's 2009 Dodge Journey, a crossover that arrived in showrooms this month. A special foam that provides more support but with less thickness is at the core of those seats, said company spokesman Scott Bristow.

The seats are "designed both to be more forgiving and comfortable for the larger occupant," he said.

Toyota Motor Corp., another Johnson customer, is "pretty good at making a flatter seat," said Johnson Controls' Brent Hodge.

But not every set of wheels among the 700 vehicles at the Detroit show is preoccupied with accommodating the overweight. Makers of high-performance, $100,000-plus sports cars such as Lamborghini, Maserati, and Ferrari craft interiors like cockpits to hold drivers and passengers in place during tight maneuvers.

Mercedes-Benz's luxury sports car, the McLaren SLR, offers three seat widths, with the most generous being 18 inches overall at the widest part with a center strip that tapers to 11 inches where the seat meets the back support. The car is priced at $500,000.

Looking to boost sportiness and performance in its entry-level Cobalt, which starts at under $25,000, Chevrolet is showing the SS version that rejoins the lineup in the second quarter of this year. The measurements of its seats are identical to the McLaren's.

Automakers adjust seats as Americans become wider
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