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Aichi firm eyes the fast lane as Asia’s top race car seat maker

by

Kyodo

Though it only has 13 employees, an auto parts manufacturer in central Japan boasts a 50 percent share of the market for auto racing seats in Asia, and is regarded as one of the five biggest global brands.

“We are pursuing products that can make people excited when they’re seated,” said Mineo Takase, the president of Bride.

The firm is based in Aichi Prefecture, where automaker Toyota Motor Corp. is also headquartered.

In mid-January, some 320,000 people flocked to the Tokyo Auto Salon held in Chiba Prefecture, where Bride was among the companies showcasing their products. Fans visited Bride’s booth could try out the seats.

Takeshi Tsuchiya, 44, is among the professional auto race drivers who use Bride’s seats.

“A driver can sense the condition of his car — whether its wheels are about to slip or spin — through its seating,” Tsuchiya said. “The seating is an important part of the car, like a body part.”

Tsuchiya has been working with Takase for years to develop seats.

“I like how he is eager to create quality products,” Tsuchiya said of Takase.

Takase established the company in 1981 after working for a car dealer and a auto parts trading house. Though there have been ups and downs, Bride has grown to capture a more than 70 percent share of the domestic market for racing car seats.

“I love driving cars,” said Takase, 65. “Young people craved cool cars (at the time the company was established). There was a growing trend of customizing their own cars.”

Takase’s first product was similar to seating made in Europe that he sold at low prices. He said he took apart a Europe-made seat to learn how it was made.

The product sold well.

Takase initially sold his products as off-brand goods, but decided to change the approach five years after the company was launched when he saw that only 1 out of 200 racing cars used Bride’s seats at racing events.

“That was when I was made aware that I needed to show off the Bride brand so more people would recognize it,” he said.

Takase began going to auto racing events across Japan every weekend and asking drivers for opinions about his products in a bid to improve them, which resulted in more racers using Bride seats.

A racing seat is called a “full bucket” seat, an important component that holds and protects the driver. Bride has amassed data regarding the body shapes of more than 1,000 professional and amateur drivers.

The company’s business took a bad turn with the burst of the bubble economy in the early 1990s.

At the time, many young people turned away from driving, and the 2008 global financial crisis worsened the situation. Bride’s sales plunged to ¥400 million ($3.5 million) in 2009 from ¥1.3 billion in 1994.

“We started to put more effort into expanding customers,” Takase said.

To expand sales channels, employees visited parts wholesalers and explained features in detail, while promoting them at major auto parts stores.

As the company is small, all employees have to do a little bit of everything, including product development, sales and maintenance.

The business is now on track again, and the firm produces 7,000 seats annually.

“High-quality seating does not cause backache. … I want to create an ultimate seat that doesn’t even make people feel like they are seated,” Takase said.

Bride’s seats are not only used in cars. They have also been installed as players’ benches at the stadiums of two J-League first division soccer teams.

Bride hopes its seats will be used at even more stadiums, such as for rugby and basketball players as well as in the royal boxes at baseball stadiums.

Takase hopes Bride will become emblematic of sport seats, and said he hopes to be a “chair craftsman” for the rest of his life.