Dr. Derriere Knows a Thing or Two about Ford Seat Engineering

Mike Kolich spends a lot of time thinking about seats. For example, how your seat feels when it’s been in a Ford seat for more than an hour. In fact, his nickname inside Ford is Dr. Derriere, and he leads a team of not-so-mad scientists in the quest for seats that combine lighter weight for better vehicle fuel economy, increased comfort and good support. And some of the tools they use may surprise you, with a high-tech mannequin with an articulated back and a seat carousel.

The all-new 2013 Escape, which is scheduled to be debuted next week at the LA Auto Show, is the first Ford vehicle with a global seat architecture specifically designed to conform to the Ford seat DNA. The DNA is a set of quantifiable measurements for each system in a new vehicle designed to provide a consistent feel across all Ford vehicles worldwide.

“People are spending more time in their vehicles and continually touch the seats, which is why it has become increasingly important to ensure their seat is both comfortable and supportive,” said seat comfort engineer Mike Kolich, better known inside the company as “Dr. Derriere.” “We are designing our seats so when drivers and passengers arrive at their destinations, they are relaxed and ready to go.”

According to Mayo Clinic researchers, back pain ranks second only to headaches as the most frequent cause of pain. Some of this discomfort is caused by Americans spending more time than ever in vehicles, with 50 percent of drivers reporting they experience lower back pain. According to a University of California study, the average driver spends 101 minutes per day on the road.

Mike is a member of the global seating team that was established in 2005 to bring the development of industry-leading seats in-house at Ford. The team creates seats that meet the safety, quality, functionality, design and packaging requirements of the Ford global vehicles while ensuring drivers and passengers are comfortable whether they are in Detroit, Paris, Rio de Janeiro or Beijing.

When the team of engineers (three each in Europe and Brazil, seven in North America and one in Asia) studied customer data in each region, they learned that many of their old assumptions about seats were wrong. “We used to think Europeans liked aggressively shaped seats with firm cushions while Americans preferred flat, cushy seats,” said Mike. “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.”

After running thousands of tests with drivers and passengers around the world in the lab and in vehicles, the team was able to quantify a set of common standards that would provide more comfort no matter where people drive a Ford vehicle.

With the comfort requirements established, the challenge was to build seats that hold occupants in place, increase interior roominess and contribute to the goal of reducing vehicle weight.

While working on the seats for the new Escape, Mike studied dozens of chairs used outside of the automotive industry for ideas about what makes a comfortable throne.

“The office chair industry is one of the major industries we’re looking at in terms of construction, materials and durability,” he said. “If you look at the advancements in office chairs from the 1960s – when luxury meant big, puffy cushions – to where they are now, with thin, ergonomic chairs that still feel luxurious, it’s definitely a major change in the way seats are designed.”

The Escape hasn’t been fitted with anything like those modern, high-end office chairs yet – future vehicles will get even slimmer seats – but slimmer seat backs and optimized cushions contribute to increased foot and knee room for rear seat passengers.

By using the same computer simulation tools available to crash safety engineers, the team has developed an award-winning, world-class front seat structure architecture that is 10 percent lighter while meeting global requirements and providing enhanced functionality. These achievements are enabled by use of high-strength steels, laser welding, intelligent part integration, targeted use of engineered plastics and detailed structural-section analyses. This work has resulted in seven Ford-exclusive patent applications to date. The driver’s seat of the 2013 Escape is now available with 10-way power adjustment, and rear seat passengers will benefit from an available reclining seat back.

Even with all of the quantitative data being collected, eventually the engineers have to put butts in seats. Blind comfort evaluations are conducted using a turntable with five different seats mounted on it. Testers sit down on the seat, give a subjective rating, and then the turntable rotates to bring the next seat around. All of these efforts are paying off, as the number of consumers surveyed by the Global Quality Research System giving a “high satisfaction” rating to Ford seats steadily rose from 78 percent to 83 percent between 2005 and 2010.

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Stuart Philpott I have 2011 Ford Taurus that I owned for 5 months and put 21,000 miles on it. I use it for business and have found the drivers seat, position of the seat and floor space terrible. After a short time (20 minutes) of driving with my foot on the gas pedal i have pain and numbness in my right leg to my foot. I drive with the cruise 95% of the time. The space for your feet in the 2011 Taurus is very confining with the duct work in front of the seat. The console has no storage, it's a joke and takes up most of the car. What were the Ford engineers thinking? I work in this industry and i'm in and out of plants every week from Mexico to Canada. I'm Ford's worst sales man. I have 2 other Taurus drivers in my company that have the same leg pain issues. I had a Camry before that i put 100k on in a litle over 2 years and had no leg pains every. I hope Ford changes something quickly. Any optional seat suggestions would be greatly appreciated. S. Philpott
2 year(s) ago via
Jamie At Ford Hi Paul, I’m glad you find them comfortable! I recommend taking your vehicle to the dealership so they have the opportunity to help remove or suggest fabric protectors to keep your seats looking new. @Thomas – If you haven’t done so, I would work with your Ford service providers as they’re best able to help with vehicle concerns. @Carl – Thanks for suggesting idea submission to The Ford Story! Jamie Ford Customer Service Division
2 year(s) ago via Facebook
Jamie At Ford Hi Paul, I’m glad you find them comfortable! I recommend taking your vehicle to the dealership so they have the opportunity to help remove or suggest fabric protectors to keep your seats looking new. @Carl – Thanks for suggesting idea submission to The Ford Story! Jamie Ford Customer Service Division
2 year(s) ago via Facebook
Paul Moore Very comfortable. The fabric sucks big time. Stains and dirt constantly.Ford what were you thinking ?
2 year(s) ago via Facebook
Carl Warmington better link http://social.ford.com/ making a comfortable seat is a good goal, however just as important is the ability or choice to be able or have the choice of multiple adjustments. Ford is very weak in this department, with manual seat adjustments lacking for both driver and front passenger. The most glaring omission is the lack of a seat cushion tilt fore/aft feature. Please take this idea into consideration!!
2 year(s) ago via Facebook
Eric Leber Thanks for that!I hate seats w/ a headrest pushing my head forward or a concave seat back.Now can you tell my dealership to give me that Laguna Seca Mustang and I'll try to save up for the trackey!
2 year(s) ago via Facebook
Marcia Wilbur Recently went to the Model T Jaboree in Port Huron, Mich.... $ days sitting in a Model T seat was the most comfortable ride I've ever had... If Henry could see what they've done to his seats he'd fire every one of 'em...
2 year(s) ago via
Thomas Allen Lidikay so they spend all this money on a seat, but don't bother on making the engine reliable or easy to work on? sheesh.
2 year(s) ago via Facebook
Gordon Hughson O ya? I had a 29 model A the seats sure weren't nothing to write home about. (that was back in the 50s wish had her now
2 year(s) ago via Facebook
Jason Lacina Same here. But I will say ford seats are the best! From my old t bird to my focus. Way better than any of the gmc's, dodge and jeeps I have owned.
2 year(s) ago via Facebook
David Numikoski So they're giving us better seats but taking away the hybrid option? Ugh. Can I get it the other way around please?
2 year(s) ago via
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