New Lear team will focus on future of auto seating

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News
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Southfield — Lear Corp.’s new team of designers and engineers wants to craft the future of automotive seating with a new facility.

Across Telegraph from the company’s Southfield headquarters, the new Crafted by Lear facility unveiled Thursday houses offices, design space and a showroom where concepts, materials and new seating can be presented to customers.

Lea Thomas Smith, director and head of design for Crafted by Lear, said his team’s goal is to help automakers fully bring their concept vehicles to life.

“We’re engaging with new customers at the birth point of new products,” Smith said. The workspace in the new facility, called the Center for Craftsmanship, puts all the designers and engineers in one hub, something that’s a first for Lear.

Lear already makes seats for many luxury brands including Ferrari and BMW. The new team will focus on the next step in automotive seating.

To start, the program has been focusing on projects that will launch between 2019 and 2021. Those projects are for unspecified premium-level vehicles, though Crafted by Lear will offer services for all cars, SUVS and trucks.

Jeneanne Hanley, vice president of global trim and craftsmanship, said the company will use the new facility to push the “envelope in design.”

At a Thursday event, Lear used a sort of fashion show to illustrate the types of ideas their new team is geared toward. The models wore clothes tailored to match conceptual seats that came from a program Lear ran with students in Shanghai. The models were dressed to bring out key components in the seating, such as asymmetry or simplicity.

Crafted by Lear can be “ambassadors” to automakers to bring about innovation and vision at the beginning of designing a new vehicle, Smith said.

Typically, automakers pick out seats that have already been designed, and modify them to fit a brand. Crafted by Lear essentially aims to offer a higher level of customization..

“Car buyers are becoming more selective than ever about interiors,” Raymond E. Scott, Lear executive vice president and president of Lear Seating, said in a news release. “Seats obviously play a large role in the overall appearance, quality and comfort of interiors, and our premium service can give our automotive customers a unique approach to achieve the best solutions.”

The new facility and program officially launched in Southfield over a month after Lear opened its Innovation Center in downtown Detroit, where local students will have a hand in Lear’s design processes.

Lear specializes in automotive seating and electrical distribution systems, which are used by every automaker in the world. Based in Southfield, the company employs 140,000 in 36 countries.

Recently, Matt Simoncini, Lear CEO, said the company is in talks with local politicians and leadership of the United Auto Workers to move jobs to Detroit from Mexico.

The conversations are in the early stages, he said. Ultimately, the move could bring up to 5,000 jobs to Michigan.

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Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau

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