From Reutter to RECARO: 115 years of seating expertise
People throughout the world associate RECARO with seating expertise in four different business areas: Automotive, Kids, Aircraft Seating, and Gaming. However, this seating specialist was not always so broadly positioned. All business areas can trace their roots to the “Stuttgart Body and Wheel Factory,” which Wilhelm Reutter founded in Stuttgart 115 years ago.
The success story began in 1906, when Wilhelm Reutter founded his company in Stuttgart. The trained saddler saw no lasting future in the manufacture of horse-drawn carriages after Gottlieb Daimler introduced the world to his first motor car. The growing enthusiasm for the automobile was also reflected in the proliferation of new manufacturers. He saw good opportunities for his company in the economic environment of the automotive industry, which was still in its infancy. For this reason, he shifted his focus to the production of complete car bodies and interiors.
The undertaking was met with success: By 1908, he had already hired 20 men from a wide range of trades to work at a location in Augustenstrasse in the western part of Stuttgart. In the meantime, Wilhelm Reutter’s brother Albert had also joined the business as a partner and the commercial director. Starting in 1909, they began to manufacture car bodies under the name “Stuttgarter Karosseriewerk Reutter & Co.” for nearly all well-known manufacturers of the time. With “Reutter’s Reform-Karosserie,” the company also quickly made a name for itself throughout Germany and beyond by patenting a forerunner of today’s convertibles. Customers loved this new type of folding-top system for cars, which meant that they no longer had to choose between a purely enclosed or purely open-top vehicle.
The 1920s brought a shift from one-off production to volume production of automotive bodies. Bodies were still being manufactured for private customers, but the primary customers were now car manufacturers such as Daimler in Stuttgart and Benz & Cie. in Mannheim. After the founding of Daimler-Benz AG with its own body plant, the company also increasingly sold to the Wanderer plants in Chemnitz. The scope of delivery always included production of the respective interior, including the seats, which were tailored to the customer’s wishes.
Reutter started producing bodies for Professor Ferdinand Porsche in 1931, and various precursors and prototypes for what was to become Volkswagen began to be manufactured in 1932. The company expanded in 1936, opening a second plant in Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen in 1937. A year later, Porsche started production at its new plant across the street. The workforce shrunk during World War II, and the remaining workers were reassigned to the production of aircraft parts.
In 1949, Reutter received an order to build an initial 500 “Porsche 356” sports cars. Reutter manufactured the bodies of coupés and convertibles at Augustenstrasse until 1953 and later at Reutter Plant 2 in Zuffenhausen. Until 1963, Reutter supplied bodies and interiors for a total of some 80 percent of all Porsche 356s built. The company also continued to bring about innovations for the interior, applying in 1953 for a patent for the reclining seat fittings that were used in the Porsche bodies built by Reutter, for example. These grid lever fittings were aimed at elevating driving comfort, allowing the backrest to be nearly infinitely adjusted. The seat was not only able to be perfectly adapted to the driver but also ensured that the front-seat passenger would arrive at the destination well-rested.
After being responsible for fabricating the 356 successor T8/901 (which later became the 911), Reutter sold its Zuffenhausen body production plant with 1000 employees to Porsche on December 1, 1963. The end of the company’s role as a manufacturer of automotive bodies also marked the beginning of its focus on seating expertise, with REutter CAROsserie becoming seat specialist RECARO. The roughly 250 employees remaining in the company now put their focus on the production of car seats and accessories at the company headquarters on Augustenstrasse in Stuttgart.
Porsche provided a 10-year commitment to sourcing its seats exclusively from the new business partner. In addition to manufacturing seats for Porsche, the company served as a systems supplier that provided complete seats and components to all major automakers.
The young company RECARO achieved a breakthrough in 1965 when it presented the Sportsitz for the first time. This product revolutionized automotive seating with foam padding, lateral support, and an ergonomic back contour, putting the focus on both improved ergonomics and safety. Up until this point, seats in conventional volume production had primarily consisted of metal springs and horsehair upholstery; the Sportsitz featured modern foam padding that absorbed shock from the road. The driver could now sit precisely in the seat and fully concentrate on the road – because those who sit well drive better. Thanks to a suitable riser that served as an adapter for installation in many different vehicle types, the RECARO Sportsitz was the first seat that could be installed in a wide variety of cars as a retrofit seat, regardless of the manufacturer.
From that point on, RECARO made a name for itself with car seats for original equipment, the aftermarket, and motorsports, as well as with special orthopedic seats. Aircraft seats were added to the lineup in 1972, laying the cornerstone for RECARO Aircraft Seating. In 1998, the company took a brave step into another industry with the world’s first growth-adjustable child seat: RECARO Kids is today one of the most renowned manufacturers of child seats and strollers. RECARO Gaming has likewise been setting new standards for gaming seats since 2018.