Seats more important to car buyers

Owners' satisfaction with car seats is increasing, according to J.D. Power study

Published: August 22, 2012, 10:00 AM

2013 Ford Focus ST - interior

Vehicle-owners' satisfaction with seats is increasing, especially among compact and sub-compact buyers, according to the 2012 U.S. Seat Quality and Satisfaction Study, conducted by J.D. Power and Associates.

According to Power's 2012 Initial Quality Study, interior comfort is the second-most-common reason owners cite for selection of their new vehicle.

"Owners have high expectations for their vehicle, and purchasing a smaller vehicle doesn't mean they want to forego amenities, especially regarding seats," said Mike VanNieuwkuyk, executive director of global automotive at J.D. Power and Associates.

"A vehicle's interior has been growing in importance to vehicle owners, and seats are paramount to driver and passenger comfort," he added.

Small-car market more important

Seat satisfaction among small-car owners in the 2012 study averaged 7.5 points on a 10-point scale, significantly higher than in a parallel 2008 study. Ratings for seat material and the impression of quality it conveys are also up (7.4), as is the rating for seat styling (7.6).

People are buying a higher number of small vehicles that have more seat features than previous models, and they are more satisfied with the quality of seats, according to the. Power study.

Compact and sub-compact passenger cars and CUVs account for 47.5% of all new-vehicle sales in Canada, through the first half of 2012 – up almost 7% from just a year ago. Their combined market share in the U.S. is 34.5%.

Along with their sales growth, the market penetration of seat features in those vehicles has also increased, Power's study says.

The study finds that market penetration for heated seats in the compact and sub-compact vehicle segments has increased by 16 percentage points (in the U.S.), compared with the 2008 study.

Penetration for leather seats has increased by 10 percentage points, memory seats by three percentage points and cooled/ventilated seats by two percentage points.

"Automakers are doing a good job of recognizing the importance of seat comfort and quality, identifying suppliers to provide the best seats available and integrating them into the vehicle," said VanNieuwkuyk. "That's evident by the steady increase in seat satisfaction since 2008."

While overall satisfaction with seats has increased, seat quality remains flat at 5.5 problems per 100 vehicles (PP100), compared with 2011, but has improved from 6.2 PP100 in 2008. A lower score indicates higher quality.

Headrests an issue

Headrests have a significant impact on vehicle owner loyalty and satisfaction, and satisfaction declines when owners experience problems.

Satisfaction with headrests has improved slightly from 2011, specifically headrest adjustment controls that are difficult to understand or use.

Among owners who did not experience a headrest-related problem, overall satisfaction averaged 7.9, compared with only 6.7 among owners who did experience a headrest problem.

In addition, 73% of owners who did not experience headrest problems say they "definitely will" recommend their vehicle to family and friends, and 46 percent say they "definitely will" repurchase a vehicle of the same brand the next time they shop for a new vehicle.

Among owners who experienced one or more headrest-related problems, however, only 47 percent say they "definitely will" recommend their vehicle and 27 percent say they "definitely will" purchase the same brand for their next vehicle.

More features desired

While seat satisfaction has steadily improved during the past few years, interest in seat features continues to grow.

Although fewer than 30 percent of owners have memory seats, cooled/ventilated seats, adjustable sliding rear seats or adjustable reclining rear seats in their current vehicle, more than 90 percent of those owners said they would like to have those features in their next new vehicle.

In addition, the majority of owners who have fold-down rear seats, heated seats, power lumbar support or height-adjustable seat belts in their current vehicle indicated they would want these features again in their next vehicle.

"Seats are a constant touch point for vehicle owners, and are central to providing a comfortable experience," said VanNieuwkuyk. "Owners clearly are looking for more features and comfort from their vehicle seats, and it is evident there is an opportunity to raise the bar."