Industry

Automotive

Date

IHS markit’s 2019 Seating Systems Report

Seat Assembly

Backseat

As the first point of contact for occupants, seating occupies an intrinsic space within the vehicle interiors. With increasing global vehicle density as more vehicles take to roads daily, vehicle seats play a vital role as occupants spend more time inside the vehicle commuting from one place to another. Thus, when it comes to seat assembly production, it becomes crucial for seating manufacturers to ensure that high levels of precision and quality are reflected in the final product. 

Component demand:

Increasing at a gradual pace, demand for seat assembly is following an upward trajectory globally. Not only are manufacturers exploring innovative design and functionalities, the increasing level of content being added to the seat assembly is also triggering demand. Driven by their increasing adoption in developed and developing markets, seat assembly demand has a positive outlook. According to IHS Markit, in 2018, global demand for seat assembly reached 290 million units and is further expected to scale up gradually in the long term. By 2024, we expect global demand for seat assembly to surpass 320 million units, growing at a CAGR of 1.66% during 2018–24.

IHS markit’s 2019 Seating Systems Report

Credit for the increasing demand can be attributed to its growing penetration in the C-segment, which is also the highest-volume light vehicle production segment globally. In 2018, global C-segment production generated demand for around 97 million seat assembly units, securing a more-than-33% share of global seat assembly demand by vehicle segment. Within the C-segment, entry-level and midrange vehicles took the lion’s share, commanding more than 90% of segment demand. Further, the premium D-segment took the second spot, being marginally ahead of the mass-market B-segment, with seat assembly installation volumes of about 55 million units, or a 19% share of global seat assembly demand in 2018. Within the D-segment, both entry- and mid-level vehicles accounted for the maximum share of about 76% of segment demand. The B-segment generated the third-highest demand by segment for seat assembly installation globally. Demand from the B-segment reached 54.8 million units, with a total global demand share of about 18.9% in 2018. Together, the C-, D-, and B-segments accounted for about 71% of global seat assembly demand by vehicle segment in 2018. IHS Markit further expects all three segments to sustain their dominating share, generating the highest combined demand for seat assembly installation, even in the long term.

IHS markit’s 2019 Seating Systems Report

Technology trends and key drivers

Almost every year, to “refresh” their offerings, most OEMs update the cabin of their products by adding more comfort and convenience features to entice prospective buyers. This addition of content can be witnessed in the form of a facelift or a complete new model being added into the OEM portfolio. For instance, when it comes to interiors, features that were once exclusive to the luxury vehicles of the past have become a common sight in mass-market vehicles at present. Seating, being one of the major interior components, is also experiencing an increasing content demand to enhance comfort and convenience quotient for occupants.

When we look at the present scenario, what used to be deemed as luxury has now transformed into necessity. For instance, seat comfort features, which were once seen only on the premium 

Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac, and other German luxury vehicles, have now ventured into lower segments as well. Features such as seat ventilation, power and memory functions, and lumbar support systems are now being introduced into the mass-market B- and C-segments.

Driven by increasing competition and receptiveness of technology from carmakers, comfort and convenience features are now positioned to influence consumers’ buying decisions.

So far, focus on occupant comfort for cabin designers have been mostly directed toward the front-row seats, keeping the driver and co-passenger in mind. In some cases, the rear row also receives focus, considering top-end luxury limousines. However, at present, there seems to be a shift in the occupant-comfort strategy from the cabin designers, which has led to the exploration of new ways to enhance rear-row content across multiple vehicle segments.

Demand for an increase in rear-row content seems to be fueled by numerous factors, which seems to be turning OEMs’ attention toward the “back seat.” For instance, as global light vehicle production continues to grow with a considerable demand coming from the developing economies of China, India, and South America—already being heavily populated regions—there are a lot of buyers with a buying criterion that calls for a “family vehicle” that can offer sufficient space and features to accommodate the entire family when needed. Thus, rear-row comfort and convenience also becomes a crucial selling point for automakers operating in these regions. The demand for increased rear-row content can also be corroborated by the growing popularity of the SUV/crossover body type that offers multiple rows of seating ideal for families as well as multipurpose usage. Thus, automakers focusing toward increasing content especially at the rear row(s) of SUVs promises to yield considerable returns from the buyers.

IHS markit’s 2019 Seating Systems Report

Non-technology-driven rear-row comfort and convenience elements such as enhanced space for the rear bench in terms of legroom, headroom, and shoulder room; and use of fine materials in the form of leather on interior trims and seats, are also finding traction, especially in emerging economies. China has emerged to be one of the leading regions for enhanced rear-row content demand. Owing to heavy traffic and road congestion in the majority of its business cities, China's average consumers are spending a lot of time inside their vehicles. Since most of the consumers are converting the rear rows into workstations, OEMs are given an opportunity to boost vehicle sales by enhancing rear-row content.

With new forms of mobility already gaining traction, especially when it comes to shared-mobility such as cabs and rental services, rear-row content becomes a differentiating factor for the occupants being chauffeured from one location to the other.

Shift toward weight saving in seats and use of new materials

To curb their carbon footprint and adhere to emissions norms, global carmakers have turned to weight saving to offset the effects. The benefit of weight saving also helps the vehicle’s efficiency and performance. Weight saving is not only restricted to the heavy components within a vehicle such as the powertrain, chassis, and so on, it has also become a concern for almost all the vehicle component areas. Seats, as a component, are no exception as automakers look for new measures to reduce weight while adding more content to enhance comfort. In general, standard seats are accountable for about 6% of the total weight of a vehicle. However, seat manufacturers are further investing in lowering seat weight to as minimal as possible.

This achievement will come to fruition with the help of new-age materials. For instance, the use of Advanced High Strength Steel (AHSS) for seat manufacturing can yield weight savings. ArcelorMittal, one of the biggest producers of high-strength steel in the world recently unveiled “S-in motion” steel solutions for front seats to help automakers achieve significant weight reductions by using AHSS. Under the project, the company developed two S-in motion front-seat designs.

The first, called the “Ultimate design,” reduces the seat weight from 12.4 kilograms (kg) to 10.1 kg—a reduction of 2.3 kg or 18.3% per seat. With two front seats, the total savings could be 4.6 kilograms per vehicle. The second solution, called “Efficient design,” reduces the seat weight to 10.4 kg, a saving of 2.0 kg or 15.5% per seat. According to ArcelorMittal, the second solution is achievable at a slightly lower cost to manufacturers. However, both options allow seat makers to achieve a compromise between weight savings and cost without affecting safety. 

One effective, yet expensive alternate is by making use of composite material for seat frames such as carbon fiber. For instance, as part of carbon amide metal-based interior structure using a multi-material system approach project, a group of suppliers manufactured seats that are 40% lighter, yet sturdy compared with a traditional metal frame. The new lighter seat makes use of fiberglass-reinforced plastic, nonwoven carbon fiber, and thermoplastic tapes made of carbon filaments.

Abstract of IHS Markit “The Global seat system report”

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