While relatively few new-vehicle owners indicate having experienced a problem with their vehicle seats, those who do most often cite headrest adjustment controls as the source of the problem, according to a study by JD Power (the JD Power and Associates 2011 US Seat Quality and Satisfaction Study).

According to JD Power’s research, only 6.2% of new-vehicle owners report problems with their vehicle seats. Among the seat-related problems experienced, headrest issues — specifically, headrest adjustment controls that are difficult to understand or use — are the most-frequently cited seat-related problem for a third consecutive year.

JD Power says this headrest-related problem became more prevalent shortly after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration head restraint standard went into effect in September 2008. The standard was developed to reduce whiplash injuries in rear collisions. The rule establishes a higher minimum height requirement for front seats and a requirement limiting the distance between the back of an occupant’s head and the head restraint.

“For the past three years, new-vehicle owners have had more problems with the headrest adjustment controls than with any other part of the seat,” said Allan Dix, research director of automotive product quality at JD Power and Associates. “Customers are having problems getting the headrest adjusted or setting it to a comfortable position, likely because they still are not used to the larger, forward-leaning angle of the headrests required under the new NHTSA standard.”

Compared with other new-vehicle component areas, seats have the lowest rate of customer-reported problems. In contrast, 13.1% of new-vehicle owners report problems with the vehicle exterior, while 11.7% cite they had a problem with the features/controls/displays.

Despite this low rate of seat problem incidence, satisfaction with seats is among the lowest of all vehicle component areas, averaging 7.8 on a 10-point scale. The vehicle exterior and interior garner the highest satisfaction, averaging 8.4 and 8.2, respectively.

The study finds that additional seat features have a positive impact on satisfaction, with the most satisfying features being leather upholstery, memory settings, heating and cooling options, and power lumbar adjustment.

“Features are what help drive higher satisfaction with seats,” said Dix. “The key for seat manufacturers is to integrate the features and technologies with as few problems as possible. While that’s a challenge, it’s worth the effort. There clearly is consumer demand for those features in both the premium and non-premium markets.”

Seats in non-premium vehicle models have fewer problems — 5.4 problems per 100 vehicles (PP100), on average — than seats in premium models (5.7 PP100). At the same time, satisfaction with seats in non-premium models averages 7.7, compared with 8.4 for seats in premium models.

The study finds that approximately 70% of vehicle owners would like features such as power adjustable passenger seats, power lumbar adjustment or heated seats in their next new vehicle.

In addition, the study finds there is a direct correlation between seat satisfaction and the owners’ overall satisfaction with their vehicle. Overall vehicle satisfaction is 9.8, on average, when the owner rates their seats as “truly exceptional.” Overall vehicle satisfaction drops dramatically to 7.7 when the owner rates the seats as “outstanding,” and plummets to 6.1 when the owner rates the seats as “unacceptable.”

“Overall quality and comfort of the seats are areas that the automaker and the supplier cannot afford to overlook,” said Dix.
“The seats are one of the few components the owner interacts with each time they’re in the vehicle. If they’re happy with their seats, they’re likely to be happier with the rest of the vehicle.”

Avanzar Interior Technologies, Ltd., a joint venture between Johnson Controls and SAT Auto Technologies, Ltd., ranks highest in seat quality for a second consecutive year, averaging 1.8 problems per 100 vehicles (PP100). Avanzar supplies seats exclusively for the Toyota Tundra. Following in the rankings are Setex, Inc. (2.9 PP100); NHK Spring Co., Ltd. (4.0 PP100); and TS Tech Co., Ltd. (4.0 PP100).

The 2011 U.S. Seat Quality and Satisfaction Study is based on responses from more than 73,000 new-vehicle owners who purchased a 2011 model-year vehicle. The study was fielded between February and May 2011.

Seat Supplier Quality Ranking
Problems per 100 vehicles

 Index score
Avanzar Interior Technologies, Ltd.
Setex, Inc.
NHK Spring Co., Ltd.
TS Tech Co., Ltd.
Lear Corporation
Industry Average
Toyo Seat
Johnson Controls
Tachi-S Co., Ltd.
Toyota Boshoku Corporation
Bridgewater Interiors, LLC