Shopping for a seat is like trying on shoes. So says Don Fishel, head of sales and marketing for Commercial Vehicle Group’s National Seating brand, who says the holy grail for both is finding the perfect fit.
That goal is more achievable than ever, thanks to multifaceted designs and comfort options. From four-chamber adjustable air lumbar to ever-more-sophisticated air-ride suspensions to recent souped-up luxury automotive-derived stimulative massages, today’s seats can give you home-on-wheels comfort.
If you can’t fix the roads…
Fix the seat. Such has been the logic behind the development of seat technology through the years, alongside increasingly sophisticated truck suspension technology.
National Seating introduced its air ride seat base in the mid-’60s, says CVG/National’s Larry Blankenship, seats development director.
“The basic concept was to introduce the air suspension part because it offers a superior ride to the mechanical springs” of those days, he says. The air ride seat didn’t take off immediately, says Blankenship. But in the early ’70s the Teamsters “mandated that their drivers would not drive a truck without an air-suspension seat, so the truck OEMs followed suit.”
Seats Inc., in the truck seating market since 1952, likewise early on adopted the air suspension for aftermarket products, says Sales Coordinator Adam Lindoff. “We were also one of the first with the isolator,” he says, referring to the feature that allows modern seats to glide back and forth with the truck’s movement to reduce shoulder stress.
Germany-headquartered Isringhausen enhanced the air ride suspension by introducing an automatic weight-adjustment feature to improve many European rides in 1979. Since entering the North American market in the 1980s, the company’s seats have focused on becoming a “Mercedes of seats,” says Sales and Marketing Coordinator Kristin Griffin.
The company’s 6860 series seat, introduced last year, is an upgrade from the 6800 series, says technical support representative Rick Short. It offers shoulder position adjustment plus “a quick air release so the driver can get in and out of the truck without the seat pushing him out of the door, seat cushion movement, six overall seat adjustments and seat frame tilt,” as well as an isolator, he says.
Shocks in the 6860’s suspension allow the user to “adjust the dampening of the suspension,” says Short, to prevent the bottoming out he remembers as a driver in the ’80s and early ’90s, when air suspensions would “bounce you off the ceiling.”
Most premium seats now come with most of these features, plus a wide base and cushion. In the ’90s, says Lindoff, Seats Inc.’s XLT seat expanded to a 21-inch cushion from 18 inches, a former industry standard. “We’re 22 inches now,” he adds, and the seat back is the same width. Some manufacturers increased the width to 23 inches and 24 inches to accommodate larger drivers.
Also in the ’90s, says CVG/National’s Vice President of R&D Logan Mullinix, National retuned its seat “to better compensate for the vibrations coming through the floor. Compared to most seats, we’re reducing vibrations 40 percent.” Some seats, Mullinix says, “actually amplify the vibration slightly” by carrying it through springs or other parts of the frame into the driver.
National Seating’s extra-width high-performance base and seat is standard on the Freightliner Cascadia and International ProStar.
Enhanced comfort and styling
With the basics of a fine seat – extra width, more durable foam, enhanced air suspensions, various adjustments – entrenched in many manufacturers’ products, the focus now is toward durability and comfort. Griffin says the slow economy has prompted drivers to choose carefully.
“People are more conscious of how they’re spending their money,” she says. “Owner-operators and fleets alike understand that paying a little more on the front end is actually much more cost-effective than having to replace a cheaper seat multiple times.”
Isringhausen is one of a few seat manufacturers offering as an option in their premium product a “massage” system whose purpose is to stimulate more than relax. Another is Texas-based Qualitex, a relative newcomer to the Class 8 seating arena. Its Relaxor massager system is “something that will wake you up,” says Qualitex President and CEO Sam Orsak. “Five or ten minutes’ worth of use will revitalize your body. Your blood is circulating better, you’re wide awake and you’re feeling well.”
When the Relaxor made its debut at the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas four or five years ago, Orsak says, “there was quite a bit of resistance to it. The commercial truckers would have the idea that, ‘Oh, this will put me to sleep.’ But as time has gone along, when we go to a show, we make sure that all of our seats on the outside aisle have the Relaxor in them, and we have it running 100 percent of time.”
Since 2000, National Seating has offered with its HP seat and base an option to include its Back Cycler, an enhanced lumbar device that inflates and deflates in cycles, consistently stimulating the back to keep the muscles moving and the blood flowing. “It’s standard on our premium aftermarket product,” says CVG/National Vice President Ray Miller. U.S. Xpress is among fleets utilizing the feature in most of its trucks. “The seat has an extra lumbar bag in it that works on a 40-second cycle,” Miller says. “It pushes on your back and keeps your muscles moving, the fluid in your spine moving, and helps with back pain and stress.”
Lack of lumbar support is a major complaint among drivers of all kinds of vehicles, Mullinix says, prompting seat manufacturers to make more refinements for back support. In a recent study conducted by CVG with its insurer, he notes, the results “came back that the trucking industry was paying $1,100 a year per truck for workers compensation claims for back-related issues.”
In addition to the extra lumbar bag in the Back Cycler system, premium National seats offer either one- or three-way air lumbar adjustments. Other manufacturers – Seats Inc. and Qualitex among them – offer up to four adjustable air chambers for lumbar support.
Says Fishel, “There are a lot of good seats out there, and every seat will fit you differently. The key thing is to try them out.”
A buyers guide
You can get a good aftermarket seat from $400 for a basic model to upwards of $2,000 loaded. Here are some newer premium models from high-profile manufacturers.
Bostrom Signature Series Patriot
This seat from Bostrom, a division of Accuride Corp., offers “increased comfort, durability, and a competitive price,” Accuride’s Rick Schomer said in 2008. Other features include “enhanced energy absorption and support, with premium design characteristics [such as] increased foam density with a 21-in. wide and 18-in. long seat cushion in addition to a wider backrest configuration,” he said. Options include vinyl or cloth covering in black, brown, gray, red, blue and tan.
Visit www.BostromSeating.com or call (800) 459-7328.
National Seating High Performance
National Seating’s Don Fishel says the premium HP seat offers the company’s best comfort options, including the proprietary Back Cycler lumbar stimulator, a width of 23 inches and an isolator for the high-performance air suspension. Since National’s primary business is OEM truck orders, its styling options are somewhat limited. Other than two-tone among five main colors, says Fishel, “we strive more toward functionality over style.” In addition, the company provides base products to such high-profile custom shops as Outlaw Customs and 4 State Trucks.
A list of distributors is available at www.cvgrp.com/nationalseating.aspx, or by emailing email@example.com.
Sears Seating’s Atlas Elite 80 series
From Sears Seating, this premium seat includes dual armrests, a four-chamber air lumbar system, 22-in. wide base and high back, Stabilizer double-locking slide isolator and cushion tilt adjustment. Styling options are Ultraleather covering in five colors and Modura cloth in six colors. Sears seating provides both off-road and on-highway trucking and heavy-equipment seats. The company has been in business since 1855, making it one of the industry’s oldest.
Visit www.SearsSeating.com/trs or call (800) 459-7328.
Isri USA Series 6860
This Isringhausen seat strives for comfort above all, says spokesman Rick Short. Among its features are a shoulder adjustment function and the option of the Relaxor vibrational back and leg stimulation system. Jane Rohrer, with her husband Jay, bought a pair of 6860 seats outfitted with the Relaxor system last year for their 2004 Peterbilt 379, which they later sold. Rohrer credits the heat and vibration elements with reducing the swelling she experienced often in her legs while on longer runs. For an interactive demo of the 6860, visit IsriUSA.com, click “The New NTS” button, then choose the “Premium” seat.
A list of distributors is available at
the company website, www.IsriUSA.com, or by calling (269) 484-5521.
Qualitex Seating’s Longhorn
Style and comfort features on this Qualitex model can be customized to a degree uncommon in the commercial truck seating arena. From a base “unitized metal tubular frame” offered for more than 30 years, says Qualitex CEO Sam Orsak, the options include many color combinations and covering designs, including a made-to-order “rolled and pleated” style popular in the era of the classic 1957 Chevy. The Relaxor system is also available with it.
Visit www.Qualitex.com or call (972) 932-3342.
Seats Inc. Legacy series
The Legacy series is offered in Silver and Gold models with options like the elastomeric vibration control sling under the cushion, keeping the operator suspended above the seat frame, and an isolator designed on pivots rather than roller bearings – a boon to durability, says spokesman Adam Lindoff. A new feature in the Legacy Silver (pictured) is a suspension capable of automatic resetting. “You can push a button so you can let out the air and get out of the seat,” says Lindoff. When you get back in, one button returns the seat to its prior setting. Styling options include velour, Tuff-Tex or Ultraleather.
Visit www.seatsinc.com or call(800)443-