2014 BMW i3 Continues Skinny Seat Trend

Just the Facts:
  • The 2014 BMW i3 and models from other manufacturers are using ultrathin seatbacks to save weight and increase interior space.
  • The seats in the 2014 BMW i3 weigh about half as much as conventional seats.
  • Other manufacturers experimenting with skinny seats have included Toyota, Cadillac and Ford.

WOODCLIFF LAKE, New Jersey The 2014 BMW i3 electric vehicle is loaded with a number of innovative weight-saving features, including ultrathin seatbacks, and other manufacturers may be putting their seats on a diet, as well.

For the BMW i3, designers kept the weight down by making extensive use of aluminum, magnesium and Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic (CFRP) throughout the vehicle. They also cut the weight of the seats in half by thinning down the backrests.

There's another benefit to shrinking the seats: more room. As Dave Buchko of BMW product and technology communications told Edmunds: "This seat profile works particularly well with the interior of the i3, not just from the point of view of weight savings, but also to create as much interior space as possible, especially for the rear-seat passengers."

The question is, will other manufacturers get on the skinny-seat bandwagon?

Although most EVs and hybrids still retain conventional seating, a number of automakers have been exploring the idea, and not just for electric vehicles. Back in 2010, Toyota introduced thin seats in its Sienna minivan. Although not quite as thin as the seats in the BMW i3, their light weight was promoted for its contribution to fuel economy.

Cadillac has incorporated skinny seats into its CTS line for several years, primarily as a means of increasing interior space. The manufacturer says that in the 2014 Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon, for example, "available heated and ventilated seats incorporate 'thin-seat' technology for maximum occupant comfort and enhanced rear-seat leg-, knee and foot room."

Ford has also gotten into the act, albeit just for the European market so far. In its new S-Max Concept, introduced at auto shows last year, Ford says it took advantage of the light weight of thin third-row seats to enable them "to be raised and lowered in a single action with minimum effort."

And with a number of OEM suppliers, including BASF, Faurecia, Johnson Controls and Magna, reporting that they have thin seats on the drawing board or already in prototype, it's a good bet that other automakers are getting serious about slimming down their seats.

Edmunds says: Skinny seats save weight...and they look pretty cool, too.