Detroit area car seat maker Recaro's business is racing

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

A new era of performance cars from Cadillac, Chevrolet, Ford and others has one of the world's top performance-seat manufacturers turning out more seats than ever in Michigan.

Recaro North America, headquartered in Auburn Hills, has grown exponentially in recent years, as its specialty seats become must-have options — sometimes adding thousands to the sticker prices — for many American performance cars.

Deep bolsters on seat bottoms and backs hug drivers, whether they're cutting through the pack on the race track or exiting an off-ramp on the Lodge. Grippy materials and firm padding keep drivers connected to their cars. The seats just look fast, even in a supermarket parking lot.

Recaro — a name synonymous with racing seats — works with each automaker to make unique seats. But the company says it makes sure all have the "Recaro DNA" of quality, styling and performance.

"This is going to be a growing market for us," Recaro North America general manager Emil Kreycik said in a recent interview. "It's a growing market for the (automakers)."

The company is expected to continue growing as automakers like General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. bring more new performance cars to market.

Business from automakers represents roughly 60 percent of Recaro North America's seating business. The other 40 percent is for aftermarket sales to racers and customizers, and seats for commercial and military vehicles.

The company produced about 68,000 seats in 2014, Kreycik said, but it would not provide an outlook for 2015. Globally, Recaro Automotive Seating recorded sales of $207 million in 2014.

Its Auburn Hills facility has grown from producing seats for just one vehicle in 2009 — the Cadillac CTS-V — to a handful this year, including seats for Ford's new lineup of Mustangs and GM's Camaros and Cadillac V-Series ATS and CTS.

The increase is pushing the Metro Detroit facility to produce the most products since the more than 100,000-square-foot facility opened in 2007.

"We're looking to optimize," Michael Murto, Recaro North America engineering director, said during a tour of the facility. "We can add lines very easily and increase capacity."

The facility isn't your average manufacturing plant: Seats are made primarily by human hands, not automated machines. And production lines don't use traditional conveyer belts; instead, employees move seats on rolling stands from station to station.

During production, every seat is meticulously sewn and examined — from inspection of hides to the final stitching and smoothing.

Anoush Kevorkian works in the sewing center. Recaro specialty car seats can sometimes add thousands to sticker prices.

The pinnacle of the process is a sewing area where more than 60 employees work with industrial machines. Recaro started a "sewing academy" in late 2013 as a way to create its own skilled workers because it was having trouble finding enough qualified people.

Courses include weeks of training and practicing, including two weeks in a classroom setting before four to six weeks of pre-production practice.

"Some of the programs are quite a bit more extensive and difficult to sew," said Saundra Wall, sew-line leader and trainer. "We try to make sure they're comfortable with the sew before we turn them loose on it."

The company's strict attention to detail can easily be seen throughout the facility. That has helped Recaro become one of the most prominent names in performance car seats.

"It's really pretty exciting," Murto said. "I look at it as artwork."

In the past year, both Ford and GM have touted Recaro seats in vehicles: GM announced last spring that all of its Camaro Z/28 models would feature the specialty seats. Ford highlighted the seats when announcing the 2016 Focus RS and 2016 Shelby Mustang GT350 and GT350R.

The Auburn Hills facility, which also serves as North American headquarters, produces seats for GM's SS, ZL1 and Z/28 Camaros and is gearing up for the Cadillac ATS-V and CTS-V.

It also produces seats for the Ford Focus ST, which is Recaro's longest-running line; and the EcoBoost-equipped Mustang and the Mustang GT. Production of the GT350 and GT350R are expected to start closer to their launches. A Recaro facility in Mexico produces seats for Ford's Fiesta ST. Its German-based parent company — owned by Johnson Controls — has facilities around the globe.

Nick Serra, a racing fan, has worked on aftermarket seats for six years. He puts together each seat by himself.

"It feels pretty good," he said. "I really enjoy it."

The styling and handmade production do come at a price. Recaro seats can cost thousands of dollars as optional features. Leather Recaro front seats for the Mustang are a $1,595 option. Comparable seats for the 2015 Chevrolet Camaro SS and ZL1 list at $1,995.

mwayland@detroitnews.com

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