California-based Amerigon Inc. claims it is first to market with a Climate Control Seat (CCS) that provides heat as well as cool air to the occupant's back and posterior. Approximately 5,000 of the seats are being installed this year in Ford Econoline-based Mark III conversion vans, with a suggested retail price of $374 each.

And Johnson Controls Inc. recently announced it will integrate Amerigon's CCS in a North American luxury vehicle for model-year 2000. No one is identifying the vehicle, but volumes will be significantly higher than 5,000.

The agreement with JCI is not

exclusive. Amerigon recently announced that three European automakers will use CCS for a possible launch in the 2001 and 2002 model years.

The system, controlled by a thumb-wheel switch, uses a thermal-electric device to heat or cool ambient air drawn into the unit from the cabin. A small fan circulates the treated air to the occupant through channels built into the seat.

Several Ward's editors recently drove a Mark III equipped with two of the seats. It takes a few minutes, but they heat up and cool down noticeably. But one editor swears to a disquieting correlation between the seat function and engine speed - at least on the "heat" setting: "Stepping on the gas to pass is like lighting a wick under your butt."

We presume that won't be a problem in volume production. - Tom Murphy