Issue: Jul 2007


Seton - Fine Automotive Leather



Leather seats have become standard in luxury vehicles, and leather is increasingly being used in the mid-range of passenger cars and multi-purpose vehicles.

by Nick Palmen


Thomas Bee, Managing Director Europe, Seton GmbH
Vehicle seats require hard-wearing materials that retain their look for many years while being subjected to extremes of temperature.

One of the world’s top leather companies, Seton is one of the recipients of a Global Supplier Award from DaimlerChrysler. Seton is located in the city of Mülheim an der Ruhr, Germany. For centuries Mülheim had been the principle center for leather tanning in Europe, and Seton’s facilities in Mülheim bring the longest traditions of the tanner’s art to the Seton portfolio.

Today there are two major facilities in Mülheim, which cover all aspects of producing fine automotive leathers. August 1999 marked the inauguration of Seton’s Lahnstrasse facility - finishing operations, European R&D, are located there. Principle developments are created on some of the finest raw stock in the world and evolve into world-class leathers, found in the classiest luxury vehicles.

Automotive Industries interviewed Thomas Bee, Managing Director Europe, Seton GmbH.

AI: Congratulations on your Global Supplier Award from DaimlerChrysler! You are one of only six companies honored with this high accolade for outstanding performance in 2006! Can you tell us what it takes to achieve this Award?

Bee: Thank you very much! Yes, all of us at Seton worldwide are very proud and honored to have been chosen to get the Award. It was the first time that a Tier 2 supplier was chosen.

We see the Award as a confirmation of our global activities, servicing DaimlerChrysler on a worldwide basis from America, South Africa and Europe with our facilities in Germany and Hungary. Furthermore, it is seen as a confirmation of our work in the past but is also a big motivation for upcoming projects in developing automotive leathers and upgrading interior parts by wrapping them with leather or other surface materials.

AI: You supply the Mercedes Benz S-Class with interior parts exclusively from your facility in Hungary. What are the benefits for you and the customer?

Bee: Well, in the past we supplied interior parts not only from Hungary. For many years, Seton has produced interior parts for different models in its facilities in Mülheim an der Ruhr, and opened up a new production for prototypes and small series cars in Mainhardt, South Germany.

We built up our new facility in Papa, Hungary, especially for the production of interior parts for the new S-Class. Seton has already been represented in Janoshaza, Hungary, for over ten years. Here we have our cutting facility where most of our German leather production is carried out - leathers from the US and South Africa are also cut and sent all over Europe (parts such as sewing seats and headrests) to our different customers.

The cut parts are delivered up to twice a day from Janoshaza into the Papa plant. Papa is 35km from Janoshaza. The wrapping up plant was set up close to the existing plant for logistic reasons, and also because we already have experience in Hungary.

AI: What were the biggest obstacles that you had to overcome in the past 12 months?

Bee: The biggest issues in the past were to build up the new organization in connection with the ramp-up of the production, and servicing our different customers with the right quality and in time.

AI: How does Seton contribute to the effort of the OEMs to create the ultimate impression of comfort in the field of vehicle interiors? What are your success stories?

Bee: Well, first of all, Seton develops different leathers for the automotive industry according to the request of our customers, and according to different markets. The leathers must not only fulfill the automotive specifications, but also the characteristics requested by customers for different models. Our designers and leather specialists work closely together with our customers and their design departments to service them according to their requests, not only regarding leather but also regarding style and creativity, such as new stitching lines and wrapping technologies.

AI: There is an increasing demand for a higher level of comfort in passenger cars. What are the future trends in the use of new materials and processes in interiors?

Bee: Trends include creating different leathers for different models, and upgrading the interior by using different materials and technologies. Another trend is the individualization of cars according to customer’s wishes.

AI: In the past year we have seen SunReflective Technology leather upholstery in BMW convertibles and now the technology can be seen in Mercedes Benz convertibles. What new developments do you think will have the biggest impact on the market?

Bee: Having leathers for convertibles treated with SunRefelective technology is one step in producing leather for special requests. Working on anti soiling effects, higher abrasions, better light fastness, etc, and still looking for more natural types of leather, is another challenge.

AI: How does Seton’s R& D program ensure optimal product matches for the application techniques and functionality requirements of the individual automotive seat suppliers and car manufacturers?

Bee: As said, Seton produces leathers for all automotive customers according to the given specification and requests, but together with our customers we also create new leather types which sometimes can requests new specifications. They will then be worked out together with the customers.

AI: You work together with many motor manufacturers around the globe. What efforts do you make to ensure that the quality of your products meets the customer expectations?

Bee: The customer’s expectations from a technical point of view are given or created together with our customers. On top of that, the characteristics like softness, smooth handle, different colors etc. are very important to meet the customers’ expectations and are produced for the individual.

AI: What are your goals for expansion worldwide?

Bee: Seton is globally represented in all major countries in the world. Right now we have facilities in North and South America, Africa, Asia and Europe. For example, Seton opened up the latest facilities in China to meet customers’ requirements for locally produced products.

AI: Where do you see the biggest potential growth for Seton in the future?

Bee: Besides leather production, Seton sees a great opportunity in servicing our customers in producing or upgrading interior parts for the automotive industry. Being creative in production methods and locations is also a major issue. Logistic issues are also having a big impact.

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