by Jim Kerr
At the annual Car of the Year testing conducted by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) last fall, DaimlerChrysler Canada product specialists presented the company’s new “Stow ‘n Go” seating technology.
Afterward, much discussion ensued between the journalists about the seats. Were they really only a marketing feature on the next generation of Chrysler and Dodge minivans, or were they actually a new system worthy of recognition alongside other innovative technology?
We did all agree on one thing: they are an excellent example of good design that increases the versatility of the vehicle, while making it easier for the operator to change vehicle configurations.
Unlike many technologies that come from the engineering and research departments and are then presented to management, the original concept for the “Stow ‘n Go” van seating originated from upper management and marketing. They recognised that for Chrysler and Dodge minivans to remain competitive and to set new standards in the marketplace, they needed innovation that would allow owners convenience and versatility.
They envisioned a flat cargo floor that did not require the seats to be removed and gave the task of making it happen to the engineering department. There’s nothing like working under pressure!
Rumour has it (unconfirmed, but originating from Chrysler staff) that the difficult task of designing the fold-flat seat operation was finally achieved after one of the engineers took the problem home and spent some time with his young son and a Meccano toy set. By the next morning, the problem of how to make the seats fold flat was solved. Of course, there is much more to this feature than just a special arrangement of linkages.
A redesigned floor pan incorporates a “Quiet Steel Technology” for the large recessed seat storage tub. The sheet metal tub is actually two layers of steel with a visco-elastic treatment sandwiched between them – the so-called “quiet steel”. Keeping noise out of a vehicle’s interior is much more difficult when compartments open to the passenger area are added to the vehicle structure. With the use of Quiet Steel, structural ribbing on the panels and a liquid spray-on sound dampening material, the interior noise levels were reduced even lower than what they were on the previous design vans.
A redesigned underbody structure was also incorporated to keep the van bodies stiff and stable, even with the large open storage tub in the centre of the floor.
Finally, folding the seats into a shallow under-floor compartment could only be done if the seats were less bulky. Thinner foam was installed in the seat backs and cushions, but to ensure comfort, higher density foam was used. Folding the seats into the floor is a simple task, demonstrating the innovative technological design. When the seats are not folded down, the storage tub can be accessed by lifting the floor panel, providing an extra 340 litres of hidden storage space.
Is the “Stow ‘n Go” seating really a technology or just a feature? There is no doubt a lot of technology was used to produce a simple and effective product in only eighteen months, a very short time for a new design. Perhaps the speed in which this simple but ingenious folding mechanism design was brought to market is the real technology in this story. Computer drafting, development and simulation continue to decrease the time it takes to bring new products to market. The “Stow ‘n Go” seat is a good example.
The useful design has caught buyers’ interest, enabling Chrysler and Dodge minivans to still lead the minivan sales market. In fact, the feature has even overshadowed the nameplates on the vans. Instead of shoppers looking for a Dodge Grand Caravan or a Chrysler Town and Country van, there are some that are simply looking for the “Stow ‘n Go van”. Now that’s marketing!