Johnson Controls Inc.'s Automotive Systems Group closes out 1994 with a bang--actually more like a crash. Capping a year in which JCI produces its millionth seat for Chrysler Corp., picks up a complete seat-system contract from Rover and increases its sales from $2.55 billion in 1993 to $2.87 billion, the company installs a $2.8-million vehicle crash simulator.

Intending to speed product testing and validation, JCI installs the HYGE (hydraulically controlled gas-actuated) crash sled in early November. It is one of about 30 such systems in use by major automotive companies worldwide. Competing Lear Seating Inc. is spending $3 million for similar testing capability. General Motors Corp.'s Inland Fisher Guide and Takata Inc. also have on-site crash-test sleds.

With in-house testing, the seat companies will no longer have to wait for available time to rent automaker and test company equipment to ensure that their products meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. "Much shorter lead times will be required for test-scheduling now that we have an in-house system," says Jerry Zimmerlee, chief engineer for technical services at JCI.

The new test sleds also will help as the competitors take on more design responsibilities from their OEM customers (see feature, p.46). The company will take on complete seat-system design responsibility for Chrysler's 1998 Chrysler LH platform.

Earlier in the year, JCI delivers its millionth front and rear seat set to Chrysler. The supplier started its relationship with Chrysler in 1984 and now has nearly all of its passenger-car and Jeep seat business.

JCI's millionth seat set was one of thousands produced in Mt. Clemens, MI, just in time (or just in sequence in JCI lingo) for the 1995 Chrysler Cirrus and Dodge Stratus vehicles assembled at Chrysler's Sterling Heights, MI, plant. Cirrus and Stratus are the first passenger cars made in North America with seats fabricated using JCI's Uni-trim bonding system. Uni-trim, says JCI, is an innovative, cost-effective method for bonding seat covers to foam pads with adhesive to improve seat styling and comfort.

While cultivating old partners such as Chrysler, JCI adds Rover to its system customer list in 1994. From its new King's Norton facility in Birmingham, England, JCI is delivering front and rear seats to Rover's Longbridge, U.K., plant for installation on the automaker's 1995 Mini, Metro and 200/400 series models.

"This expanded Rover business is a logical extension to the many successful component programs we've had with the automaker over the past years," says Chip McClure, vice president and managing director of JCI's European automotive systems group. JCI also supplies complete seats for Volkswagen AG, Opel, Nissan, Toyota, Skoda and Jeep in Europe.

In North America the company counts GM, Ford Motor Co. and transplants Toyota Motor Mfg. USA Inc., Nissan Motor Mfg. Corp. USA, and Honda of America Mfg. Inc. among its customers as well as Chrysler. In fact, JCI says it has 100% of all North American transplant seat business available to non-captive suppliers.

1994 also saw JCI put its integrated structural seat (ISS) design, as well as designs from other manufacturers, on the line in a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration-funded, 18-month research program investigating occupant safety in future vehicle seats. JCI is partnered with EASi Engineering for the project, which could give the seatmaker a leg up on its competition by being in on the testing process. One focus of the study is the safety benefit of ISS designs, which integrates seat belts into the seat system rather than attaching them to the B-pillar. Light truck and sport/utility vehicle seat designs also will be examined by the study, since rollovers are the second leading cause of fatalities involving this growing market segment.