Dearborn, Michigan - Ford Motor Co.'s 2013 Escape model has lighter, slimmer seats - but the company notes that "longer commutes cause American drivers to spend more time in their vehicles and have more back pain," so that comfortable seating is more important than ever.
So while the seats are part of the overall weight reduction package in the vehicle, contributing to Ford's goal to be the fuel economy leader, development of the seats also focussed strongly on seat satisfaction.
Ford's 'Dr Derriere' Mike Kolich and his seating comfort team use a seat carousel and a mannequin with an articulated back to help achieve high seat satisfaction, studying seats from other industries to help develop even smaller, lighter-weight seats
The new 2013 Escape is the first Ford vehicle with a global seat architecture specifically designed to conform to the Ford seat 'DNA,' -- a set of quantifiable measurements for each system in a new vehicle, designed to provide a consistent feel across all Ford vehicles worldwide.
When Ford engineers studied customer data in each region, they realised that many of their assumptions about seats were wrong. "We used to think Europeans liked aggressively shaped seats with firm cushions while Americans preferred flat, cushy seats," said Kolich. "The reality is that regardless of the size and shape of a driver's backside, they tend to value roughly the same characteristics when it comes to comfort. European drivers actually wanted somewhat more cushioning than previously thought while Americans wanted better support."
Many features of the new seats are not readily apparent. When viewed from above, seat backs typically have a U-shape, where the main central portion of the cushion is flat, with side bolsters emerging from the outer edges. The new seats have a V-shape contour that self-centres the driver.
Ford also has a new mannequin for seat tests that features a three-segment articulated back. Across the lab, robotic test equipment is used to measure the deflection of the soya-foam cushions and bolsters with a range of loads, using aluminium pans that simulate the shape of various body types.
Blind comfort evaluations use a turntable mounted with five seats. Testers sit on a seat, give a subjective rating, and the turntable rotates to the next seat. Ford said the number of consumers giving a "high satisfaction" rating to Ford seats steadily rose from 78 percent to 83 percent between 2005 and 2010.