Lear opens new Innovation Center in downtown Detroit

Lear opens new Innovation Center in downtown Detroit

Automotive seats in coming years will reflect the collaboration announced this week between Wayne State University engineers, College for Creative Studies design students and Lear Corporation. The Southfield-based auto supplier opened a $10-million Innovation Center in downtown Detroit to accomplish this goal.

Matt Simoncini
Matt Simoncini

“We are very excited to be opening a new Innovation and Design Center in downtown Detroit,” says Matt Simoncini, president and CEO of Lear Corporation. The corporation is a world leader in seating and electronic systems involving seats. With 240 locations in 36 countries, the firm is coming back to its roots in Detroit.

He says from the first day he was made CEO in September 2011 he began to inquire how to move certain functions of Lear downtown to tap into the creative vibe in Detroit and combine it with talent from two Detroit-based colleges – Wayne State University and the College For Creative Studies.

“Lear’s investment in this new center is another example of how Detroit is building on its history of innovation in automotive design,” says Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. He was especially happy the Southfield-based company is coming back home to Detroit.

The Innovation Center will move into an 1887 building that once housed a cigar manufacturer and will help Lear, “fully participate in the transformation that is underway in the automotive business,” and tap into “the concentration of arts, science and technology assets in the Capitol Park area,” Simoncini says.

The six-story, 35,000-square-foot, Victorian Romanesque building at 119 State Street will include a first floor gallery and showroom, modern work spaces and a rooftop garden for special events. It will house select students from Wayne State University and the College for Creative Studies who will work with Lear designers and engineers to develop new ideas for seating that combine hardware and software. The paid internships will help the students learn how to establish themselves in cutting-edge careers.

The Lear Innovation Center at 119 State Street in Detroit is a welcome addition to the business district.
The Lear Innovation Center at 119 State Street in Detroit is a welcome addition to the business district. 

Roy Wilson, president of Wayne State University says Lear hired 83 alumni from Wayne including Simoncini and five vice-presidents. He believes WSU students will be better prepared for engineering careers with a collaboration with Lear and with CCS. The giant supplier also pledged $2.5 million to WSU’s business school.

Thirteen CCS grads are designers at Lear, strengthening the reciprocity between the college and the seat supplier. The Lear CEO chaired the recent wine auction in Capitol Park for CCS, helping raise $4 million for the college. Lear has sponsored the annual CCS student exhibition since 1996.

“We will be working with CCS to capitalize on our unique fabric, leather and sewing expertise to produce the next-generation of car seating and vehicle interiors as well as select non-automotive applications,” he says. “We will also be working with WSU to expand our industry-leading electrical distribution systems and capabilities including connected car and alternative energy vehicle applications.”

Lear is also involved in a joint venture with Comer Holdings for Integrated and Manufacturing Assembly, launched in 2010 on the city’s northeast side. This company creates fabric for automotive seats and retail applications.

The new collaboration holds much promise.

Another joint venture on the manufacturing and warehouse landscape is Xenith, a developer of innovative football helmets and shoulder pads, which moved from the East Coast to a 65,000-square-foot space in Southwest Detroit. The facility includes Lear, Rock Ventures and Sturgis Molded Products.

The Lear Innovation Center. 

Xenith’s new Detroit facility will produce more than 1,000 helmets per day at peak production and will employ 60 to 70 full-time workers to assemble, recondition and paint its innovative protective equipment. The Detroit operation began in early 2015 and the majority of the workers are Detroiters employed by Lear. Xenith also will create five new full-time customer service positions in downtown Detroit.

Xenith, part of the Rock Ventures Family of Companies, was founded in 2004 in Lowell, Massachusetts. Its helmets were formerly assembled and warehoused on the East Coast.

What could seats and seat assemblies of the future look like? CCS President Rick Rogers speculates they could be made of new materials being developed by Lear. They could have embedded sensors that would adjust automatically to the height, weight and body metrics for maximum comfort. He sees a convergence of hardware and software.

“We’re just scratching the surface of what a seat can be,” Simoncini says.

With an Innovation Center operating in the heart of Detroit as a hub for art, creativity and automotive advanced concept development, the possibilities are unlimited for dynamic seating and for an even more dynamic city.

Photos Courtesy Lear Corporation


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.