DETROIT – Automotive seat producers are in constant pursuit of clever new ways to pamper the posterior.

Seats currently are available that are heated, cooled, ventilated and covered with innovative new fabrics to improve comfort. Lumbar adjustments are increasingly common, and some luxury cars offer seats with gentle massaging mechanisms.

At this week’s Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress here, Leggett & Platt Automotive Group displays a concept seat that takes the massage feature to a new level.

The “full body massage” seat offers a Japanese-style shiatsu massage with a series of four balls that rotate just behind the seat foam. The balls move up and down and rotate in a circular motion with varying degrees of intensity, depending on how deep a massage the driver wants.

Similar seats are available now for home use at various specialty retailers.

Leggett & Platt’s seat is set up at the Congress directly in front of a computer screen, allowing the occupant to customize the massage. How these features would be integrated into a production application remains unclear, as there are no contracts to date.

But Peter Hoehne, vice president-sales and marketing worldwide for Leggett & Platt Automotive, says the full massage seat will be ready for production in ’08 or ’09 model vehicles.

Leggett & Platt produces massage seats with rollers that gently move up and down for several vehicles currently in production, including the Audi A8, Volkswagen Phaeton and Ssangyong Chairman.

The first application for the massage seat was the Cadillac DeVille, in 1998, Hoehne says.

At that time, the seats came from the Schukra Automotive plant in Windsor, Ont., Canada. Leggett & Platt purchased Schukra in 2000, and the plant remains the world’s largest producer of automotive lumbar support devices, Hoehne says.

Based in Windsor, Leggett & Platt Automotive Group has 19 facilities worldwide and 3,800 employees. Its specialty is automotive seat products.

The therapeutic value of a massage seat should not be overlooked, Hoehne says. For those with back problems, sitting behind the wheel for long commutes can be extremely painful. A massage seat improves blood circulation around the discs of the spine.

“The pain comes when you’re sitting still, and there’s no blood flow,” Hoehne says, adding that reduced fatigue makes drivers more attentive.

“Our mission is to make people better drivers,” he says.

The seat is generating plenty of interest here, albeit some from conference attendees looking for a soothing break after a full day on their feet.

tmurphy@wardsauto.com