What do car drivers expect from their head restraints? Johnson Controls worked with the German technical inspectorate, TÜV Rheinland, to identify customers’ needs and the level of customer satisfaction with respect to car head restraints.

The partners asked some 900 car drivers from Germany, France and the US to rate how satisfied they are with their current head restraints and what they expect from head restraints in cars of the future.

The study found that car drivers want their head restraints to be easily adjustable to personal requirements, intuitive to use, but still offering a high level of safety. According to this study, car drivers want greater horizontal – i.e. forward/backward – adjustability from their head restraint and the ability to optimize the angle of the restraint or adapt it better to the specific ergonomics of their own sitting and head positions. However, this extra degree of comfort must not come at the expense of safety, i.e. the ideal head restraint must unite comfort, functionality and safety, all at the highest possible standard.

To find out more, Matthew Beecham talked with Jeffrey Lindberg, global product business manager riACT and Hannah Hahn, research specialist, Johnson Controls Inc.

just-auto: Did anything surprise you when you read the results of your head restraint study?

Hannah Hahn: Not real surprises, but the strong differences in terms of definition between the French and US market compared to the German market. The head restraint in the German market is clearly seen as a safety feature while the other markets defined comfort as an important element.

just-auto: The head restraint study sounds like it has revealed a lot of useful information.  What else has your consumer research told you about what drivers want from their seats?

Hannah Hahn: As shown already in the head restraint study consumer preferences can differ in various markets and segments, therefore it is important to check the consumer´s needs regularly. Johnson Controls is doing this over a long period now, with research in Europe, the US and China.

General wishes for the seat are:

  • Driver comfort
  • Individual adjustability of the seat
  • Design and choice of material
  • Solutions might differ in the different markets

just-auto: In what ways will this head restraint study influence your seat designs?

Jeffrey Lindberg: We will use the study findings to influence our new product development activities in order to bring consumer-accepted products to market, especially to satisfy consumer desires for adjustability, comfort, and safety.

just-auto: I guess the US motor vehicle regulations pertaining to occupant head restraints (FMVS 202A) has helped heighten awareness among Americans about the importance of head restraints?

Hannah Hahn: Before the new requirements were established in the US market, the head restraint especially in the C-segment was rather seen as a comfort feature. Head restraints adapted to the new requirements are predominantly seen as a safety feature (shift of 10%). Nevertheless, the overall satisfaction level has not changed after the new requirements, also the level of quality remains stable.

just-auto:  Over the years, new materials and techniques have improved vehicle occupant comfort and wear resistance while reducing weight and cost. Yet what recent safety related developments have JCI introduced?

Jeffrey Lindberg: Johnson Controls has developed a riACT portfolio of anti-whiplash active head restraints to provide consumers both enhanced comfort and safety.  In a rear end collision, these head restraints automatically deploy forward to support the occupant's head and limit forces on the neck.  The European New Car Assessment Programme (Euro NCAP) has evaluated a seat with riACT as the highest performing seat in its whiplash assessment test with a score of 3.7 out of 4 possible points.

We also produce a variety of front and rear seats with integrated seat belts usually for special vehicles such as convertibles or for rear seat center seating positions.  These seats must be capable of holding higher crash loads, so the seat frames and mechanisms must be specifically designed to handle the higher forces.

Although we do not produce traditional restraint systems like seat belts and airbags, we regularly integrate restraint systems into our products and ensure their performance both in the design of the product and in the manufacturing process.  For seats, we integrate seat belt buckles, retractors, anchors, side airbags, occupant detection systems for frontal passenger airbag control, seat belt reminder systems, and child booster seats.  With regards to side airbags, as a producer of seat back frames, foam, and trim, we ensure the mounting of side airbags to our frames as well as an unobstructed deployment of the airbag through our foam and trim materials thus ensuring proper airbag deployment in a side impact crash.  Each of these vertically integrated products is controlled in our manufacturing processes as well as at the complete seat level in our final JIT seating assembly.

For child safety, Johnson Controls also regularly designs and develops top tethers and lower ISOFIX anchors ensuring compliance to safety regulations to more easily and safely install child seats in vehicles.  

As an advanced development project Johnson Controls has also developed an active anti-submarining ramp that in the event of a frontal impact crash automatically deploys within the seat cushion of seats to help prevent occupant submarining (a condition in which the occupant slides under the lap belt) and to also limit the forward movement of the occupant to help reduce the potential for injury to the knees, thighs, and hips. There is a comfort advantage for the active system over the static anti-submarining measures that are in production today.