Modern car seats: what’s under the cover?

Modern car seats: what’s under the cover?

INNOVATION

Modern car seats have to meet stringent demands for safety and for comfort and design. Seats consist of over 100 different parts. Come and see what’s under the cover.

12. 11. 2020

The typical driver’s seat in a ŠKODA OCTAVIA weighs approximately 22 kilos and can have over 100 different parts, depending on the design. The constructors have to cope with a truly broad spectrum of requirements, where comfort and everyday practicality are just a few pieces of the puzzle.

Seats in the ŠKODA OCTAVIA COMBI RS iV

A simple comparison with the past shows how far such a basic component of cars has come. “The seats in a ŠKODA 120 also had to comply with the safety requirements of the day, but the design was much simpler than today’s car seats. They didn’t have headrests, for a start. Today, car seats have to satisfy much more stringent demands, as well as being adjustable in many more directions, electrically controlled, with airbags, heating, ventilation or even a massage function,” explains Miroslav Hradil, car seat construction coordinator at ŠKODA.

The seats in the older models also had to comply with the safety requirements of the day, but the construction was much simpler (ŠKODA MBX, 1969)

The basic idea of the seat hasn’t changed much. The structure still has three layers: the frame, foam and upholstery. These all have to combine in a way that’s comfortable, durable and safe, while offering all modern conveniences. The range of users’ body types that have to be accommodated is huge as well. And the aesthetic aspect is increasingly important: the seats simply have to look good.

Comfort and safety

But good-looking seats have to be safe and comfortable as well. “It’s not that hard to dovetail the requirements for comfort and safety,” Hradil says. “It’s harder to combine good looks and comfort. Pronounced sides or some kinds of seam might compromise comfort, so we keep an eye on that with the designers when developing seats,” the seat construction coordinator points out. As far as covers are concerned, the goal is to ensure that the various materials (fabric, leather, Suedia and so on) have minimum impact on the construction of adjoining parts and are all equally safe. “Sewing the upholstery of a leather sport seat takes much longer than entry-level fabric seats, of course,” Hradil says.

HradilMiroslav Hradil
car seat construction coordinator at ŠKODA

Several types of seat are made for each car, but the constructors try to stick to a single basic structure, according to Hradil. That is not only motivated by production and development costs – it also ensures safety. This can benefit customers who opt for more basic seat types. In the new ŠKODA OCTAVIA, for instance, state-of-the-art orthopaedic seats are available that were certified by AGR, a German initiative for healthier backs. But some of the construction features and know-how that helped earn this seal of approval were incorporated into the basic seat versions for the Czech carmaker’s bestseller. “AGR seats deliver the greatest comfort, the widest range of adjustment settings and even a massage function,” says Hradil.

Testing, testing

Before a car seat goes into production (development is fully handled by ŠKODA, but the seats are made externally), it has to be put through rigorous testing. Comfort is tested by development employees themselves. “All our colleagues take part in the tests, so we always get feedback from various body types,” Hradil explains. Safety tests check the working of airbags at a wide range of temperatures, for example, and impact tests are also carried out, of course. These show the forces car seats have to be able to withstand.

Manually adjustable seat in the ŠKODA ENYAQ iV 

Electrically adjustable seat in the ŠKODA ENYAQ iV

Seat quality is tested as well, naturally. “We make sure that the materials don't fade after long-term exposure to the sun, we test how resistant to abrasion and stretching seat covers are, and we test the lifespan of the seat mechanisms such as sliding or folding,” Hradil says. The seats, and especially their long-term quality, are then trialled in a real-life environment when disguised car prototypes are road-tested. “Developing seats takes just as long as developing the car itself. Seats are an integral part of cars, after all,” Hradil adds.

Sustainability and 3D printing

All these efforts mean that seats are much better than they used to be, but progress never stops. Seat design issues rising to prominence now include the use of environmentally friendly and sustainable materials. “Recycled materials and respecting vegans’ requirements, for example, are some of the current trends we’re paying attention to,” Hradil confirms.

Seats of the Suite design selection of the ŠKODA ENYAQ iV in the Founders Edition

Using 3D printing to improve seat design is another topic for the future. This process could help reduce the weight of the seat frame while increasing its structural resilience. 3D printing of foam parts could reduce the dimensions of certain parts, leaving more room for the car’s occupants. “But in both cases these technologies are still quite a long way away from mass production,” Hradil points out.

What about seats for autonomous cars? “If the driver is going to be able to sleep in them, say, that will create a whole set of new design requirements in terms of variability and the working of restraint systems,” concludes Miroslav Hradil with a glance into the future.

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