DETROIT - Recaro and Johnson Controls have joined forces in a bid to give brand appeal to luxury seats in North America.
A joint venture, known as Recaro Johnson Controls, will see Johnson produce Recaro seats under license for automakers in North America. The aim is to capitalize on the orthopedic benefits of the seats, as well as their upmarket image of luxury and sportiness.
The deal is mutually beneficial: Recaro gets immediate access to the major North American vehicle manufacturers now supplied by Johnson Controls. In return, Johnson Controls will be able to offer a premium seat without having to create a separate line of its own.
The challenge will be to sell the concept to automakers. In one sense, the idea of a specialty seat goes against automakers' push for simplicity and fewer options. But at the same time, automakers want to create stronger brand identities for their products. Seats could be a tool.
The partners see a Recaro seat as one way a car owner could customize an interior. Factory option packages or special editions could feature Recaro seats.
Rande Somma, president of interior trim, marketing and business development for Johnson Controls, claims it is the first branded seat made available to carmakers in North America. Somma expects Recaro seats to be widely available for the 2001 model year.
However, he would not say what automakers would pay for the seat. The consumer price would be determined by automakers and could be included with other options. In Europe, car owners strip out original seats and replace them with Recaro chairs, which retail for $500-$3,200 each.
Recaro seats are widely recognised in Japan and Europe where they are fitted as standard to all Porsche models and on some sports models from major manufacturers, such the VW Golf GTi. The seats come in numerous shapes and styles. One seat is equipped with fans to draw heat away from the occupant's back.
Lear Corp., Johnson's chief rival, is not far behind in this area. It has a premium seat division in Europe, supplying Audi and BMW, but the seats themselves are not branded. Lear is also studying optimal seat design for 'mature' drivers as part of broader research on how people aged 50-75 use a car.
Neither Recaro nor Lear would disclose sales targets for their upscale seats.