DETROIT – What price might an auto maker pay for a slim, stylish, comfortable front-row bucket seat that affords back-seat passengers an extra 2 ins. (5 cm) of legroom?

Johnson Controls Inc. is displaying its new Slim Seat design concept here at the North American International Auto Show, and a company executive says the new seat carries a cost premium of between $8 and $10, yet weighs no more than a conventional automotive seat.

To keep costs down, the Slim Seat consists of a standard lower cushion and steel frame, riding on a conventional steel track, David Kingston, executive director-complete seat product and business development for JCI, says.

But the seat back represents a completely new concept. A conventional seat back has a U-shaped tubular frame that holds the cushion, steel springs and other support components.

The Slim Seat has only the tubular frame and uses lightweight composites and non-molded foam in place of springs and other steel hardware, Kingston says.

The cushion also is much smaller and thinner than that of a conventional seat, placed only where the torso and shoulders actually touch the seat. It can accommodate leather or any other fabric surface.

Despite its thin profile, there is room in the lateral bolsters for seat-mounted side-impact airbags, Kingston says. The seat also can accommodate pivoting active head restraints, which will meet a new federal safety code, FMVSS 202a, which takes effect Sept. 1, 2008.

The lumbar support consists only of a thin polypropylene sheet behind the cushion that flexes as the occupant moves. It is surprisingly comfortable without conventional springs.

Because of this radical design, the Slim Seat looks from the rear like a completely new concept in seating, with its deep well creating noticeably more knee room.

JCI says it hopes to begin producing the new Slim Seat in 2009, although the supplier confirms it does not yet have a committed automotive customer.

“We have development programs,” Beda Bolzenius, JCI vice president and president-Interior Experience, says.

“We are installing the seat in two different cars just to make it accessible and to convince the customer,” he says. “It is a big step because a seat is not just a design feature. It’s a security question, and we have to go through the whole process to make it a real, salable product.”

Also at the show here, JCI displays its all-new Access Floor Console as a way to maximize the space in between the two front seats.

The Access Floor Console does not have the conventional arm rest that doubles as a rear-hinged door that opens upward for access to storage space inside.

JCI’s consumer research shows people are tired of that configuration. “It’s not at all ergonomic to sit in the front seat and to lift an armrest,” Jeff Stump, JCI’s business development manager-instrument panel and cockpit systems, says.

In the Access Floor Console, the armrest is a fixed soft surface, next to two sliding doors that move fore and aft to reveal a cavernous (and lighted) storage hold inside.

Storage bins inside the console are modular and fully re-configurable, including the cupholders.

From behind, a large storage tray pulls rearward for second-row occupants.

JCI plans to manufacture its Access Floor Console with its new CrafTec process, which is designed to join dissimilar materials and ensure top-quality fit and finish of interior trim panels.

Stump says the Access Floor Console, when manufactured with CrafTec, will cost about the same or slightly less than a conventional center console, while yielding significantly more storage space.

JCI has no plans yet to produce the Access Floor Console.

tmurphy@wardsauto.com