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Vehicle Owners Want Third-Row Seats, but Without Sacrificing Quality and Cargo Space

By: Jeff Youngs, 8/15/2014

Automakers are responding to consumer demand for third-row seating, but at a price: customers complain that the third row of seats can lead to a lessening of the overall quality of the vehicle, and a loss of cargo space.

The J.D. Power 2014 Seat Quality and Satisfaction StudySM finds that the overall industry average for seat-related problems is 9.1 problems per 100 (PP100) vehicles in 2014, an improvement of 0.4 PP100 from 2013. Among owners of vehicles with third-row seating, 54% indicate that passengers use that third row at least once a month, with 41% of these owners using it at least once a week. When owners experience a problem with a manual seat control, the most common reason cited is that the controls are physically hard to operate. Owners who experience problems with power seat controls report more issues with the placement of the controls.

While overall the percentage of new vehicles that offer third-row seats remains stable, some segments have shown year-over-year increases. In the mass market truck/van segment, 23% now offer third-row seating, vs. 19% last year. Among mass market compact SUV/MPVs, the percentage rose to 1.7% from 0.3%. Adding third-row seats increases passenger capacity, of course, but it also creates opportunities for problems and complaints. The mass market compact SUV/MPV segment--the smallest segment in the third-row market--averages 13.0 PP100 related to seats, compared with the industry average of 11.5 PP100 for vehicles with third-row seating. In contrast, the larger vehicles in the mass market truck/van segment have the fewest seat-related problems (8.6 PP100) among those offering third-row seating. The industry average for seat-related problems among vehicles without third-row seating is 8.7 PP100.

"There is demand on third-row seats and automakers are trying to meet that demand," said Mike VanNieuwkuyk, executive director of global automotive at J.D. Power. "The challenge is to provide a functional third-row seat that meets customer needs and expectations without compromising quality, comfort and space. It's easier to do that in a larger vehicle, but automakers and seat suppliers need to find a way to also meet consumer expectations in the growth area, which is smaller SUVs and MPVs."

Johnson Controls ranks highest in customer satisfaction (in a tie) in the luxury SUV segment for its seats in the Land Rover Range Rover Evoque and Porsche Cayenne. Additionally, Johnson Controls ranks highest (in a three-way tie) in the mass market truck/van segment for the Ford F-250/F-350 Super Duty. Avanzar ranks highest (in a three-way tie) in the mass market truck/van segment, receiving two awards for the Toyota Tacoma and Toyota Tundra. Magna ranks highest in the mass market compact SUV/MPV segment for the Ford C-Max, and highest in the luxury car segment for the Porsche Panamera.

Bridgewater Interiors ranks highest in the mass market midsize/large SUV segment (Honda Pilot); Hyundai Seat Division ranks highest in the mass market compact car segment (Hyundai Elantra), and Lear Corp. ranks highest in the mass market midsize/large car segment (Buick Regal).

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