by MotorWeek Staff
An automobile that matches your unique personality is a must. That sentiment helps fuel the global car accessories market. A 360-billion-dollar industry! Custom automotive interiors are a big chunk of that. Millions which are crafted by a company you’ve probably never heard of - Katzkin Automotive Leathers. As FYI reporter Stephanie Hart shows us making their one-of-a-kind seat covers and installing them is a thorough process that’s pretty cool to watch.
STEPHANIE HART: We are behind the scenes at the Katzkin Automotive Leather factory in Montebello, California. The company has transformed more than two million vehicles over the last thirty five years.
Here, old world techniques meet the latest technology. Crafting customer leather interiors that are affordable.
“What is the appeal of custom leather interior?”
MILES HUBBARD: “We find 80 percent of customers prefer leather if they can get it. It cleans easily, easy to maintain, smells good, there is a feeling of leather that’s different from sitting in cloth.”
STEPHANIE HART: On the flip side, leather upholstery can stain easily. And it’s more expensive to fix than fabric. Over time, leather can also fade and crack. Still., nothing gives a car interior a premium look like leather. The type of leather Katzkin uses comes from Brazil.
“Workers inspect each hyde for any imperfection because nothing can replace the human eye, they take a pen, like this, and look for flaws… oh here’s one right here… they mark it”
“Next they head over here… and put the hyde’s on these horses. This actually stretches out the leather and gets rid of any wrinkles.”
“Finally the hides are put here on this high tech sophisticated cutting machine from France.”
It works like a scanner - cutting out those flaws, we circled, so the seats come out flawless.
Since the 1980’s, Katzkin has refined production. At the heart of it –family.
“How did the name katzkin come to be?”
MILES HUBBARD: “Mitch Katz and his sister Leslie founded the company in 1983. They were brother and sister - next of kin - that’s how they came up with Katzkin the name of the company we get that question all the time.”
STEPHANIE HART: At that time, the only way a new car buyer could have a leather interior was to buy it through their dealer. There weren’t many choices and it was expensive! So buyers were forced to settle for cloth. Katzkin changed all that. Offering more choices for less. The company was sold several years ago. But that innovation… still drives them today.
The finished products are boxed and shipped ready to be installed.
From California to Maryland… we are behind the scenes in this garage and we’re going to see how the Katzkin leather interiors are installed in this Subaru. That’s Frankie Thomas. He’s doing the install.
When the seats hit his workbench - it’s go time so rewarding work?
FRANKIE THOMAS: Yes, this is rewarding work… very rewarding work.
STEPHANIE HART: This time around, Frankie is installing two tone seat covers. With leather panels and vinyl sides. A really popular look right now! We turn up the heat
FRANKIE THOMAS: “Makes your stitches line up perfectly”
STEPHANIE HART: And a little t-l-c .. Goes a long way.
FRANKIE THOMAS: “If you want you can give it a try Stephanie.”
STEPHANIE HART: Muscle comes in handy too.
FRANKIE THOMAS: The seat rest itself will go into the holes. You kind of just feel where it is the outside edge. With cars changing every year its a new process every time you do it.
STEPHANIE HART: All installations go through a series of safety tests.
PETER DALY: They go through crash testing, air bag deployment and so on and so on they are as safe as the original equipment leather interiors.
STEPHANIE HART: And it’s time to put the pedal to the metal, but we’re not going anywhere just yet.
This is affectionately called the headshrinker machine. And rightfully so!
FRANKIE THOMAS: When it gets down to a good point you put this on top of it and slide it right down.
STEPHANIE HART: And there you have it! One seat down… three more to go. As you can see I’m loving this new car smell. I’m impressed. A job well done! From the factory in California…to the install in Maryland… to the finished product. From start to finish the whole process took 24 hours. A Katzkin leather interior, including installation, starts at $1,500. The result made this car, and its owner, forever unique.