In this interview, Matthew Beecham talked with executives of Lear Corp about the use of eco-friendly materials in the cabin, consumer expectations and Lear’s most recent innovations.

just-auto: To what extent are you seeing the use of natural materials in mass produced interiors?

Lear 'ECO Padding' is made from a fast growth pine renewable resource at a ~75% level, which includes significant saw mill waste.  A small percent of edge trim (offal) is recycled during manufacture, and the entire product can be recycled back into new ECO Padding at end-of-life for the vehicle.

Lear SoyFoam soybean oil is from beans grown in the United States.  Since 2008, Lear has broadened the foam chemistry to enable implementation with a variety of customers.  Lear continues to make progress on increasing the percentage of bio-based content.  Lear SoyFoam™ has been in production since 2008, and we expect commercialisation of our latest formulation by the end of this year.

We do see the use of natural materials in vehicle seating and other interior components.  The Lear team is continually researching ways to create environmentally friendly seating without compromising comfort and performance.  

just-auto: As consumers want more flexibility from their vehicles, what challenges does that bring? 

Providing flexible solutions for customers can be a challenge, however, Lear does have the ability to provide flexibility with zip out seat inserts which enable customers or consumers to easily change seat trim fabrics. Other options for flexibility in design are: decorative stitching, embroideries, and embossments.

just-auto: In terms of fabrics used in seats, what are the trends are you seeing? 

The consumer today is more design and tech savvy than they have ever been, therefore Lear is always looking to incorporate new smart materials that are both functional and beautiful.

Lear’s new ECOFabric incorporates the use of recycled plastic bottles and fabric discards to create 100% recycled content fabric. Consumers also demand performance and many are seeking luxurious fabrics in their interiors.  We are constantly researching new and innovative fibres that provide multi-purpose function while remaining cost sensitive. Given the amount of time people spend in their vehicle, we consider the interior a secondary living space and strive to incorporate many comforts and conveniences the consumer would find in their own home. Lear is looking at material technologies never before explored in vehicle interiors and can test our ideas within our trim division, making us a unique supplier incorporating a vertical integration strategy.

just-auto: Vehicle acoustics used to mean packing as much insulation as possible into a door panel to make the interior quiet.  How has that driver changed?  Is the accent now on making a statement about a car's quality? And what role does the seat play in dampening noise?

Lear ECO AccuTune is a new patented technology that customizes seating acoustical performance enabling peak absorption to match vehicle specific needs. Seating typically accounts for greater than 50% of total vehicle interior trim sound absorption. This gives Lear the ability to fine tune our seats by varying the opening geometry and material layers. Providing the passenger with a quieter interior environment, enhancing passenger communication and improving overall audio experience. 

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 Lear introduced with respect to seats?

Lear’s ProTec PLuS system uses the occupant’s mass and motion to actuate the anti-whiplash head restraint system.  As the occupant’s pelvis and lumbar regions move rearward in a rear impact, the ProTec system is triggered by this motion and articulates the head restraint forward before the shoulders engage the upper portion of the seat back, providing superior whiplash protection specifically when the occupant requires it the most.

See also: Interiors Briefing