If Volvo has Clive the crash-test dummy, General Motors has Oscar, "a three-dimensional, mannequin-like simulation tool comfort engineers used early in the product development process of the all-new 2013 Malibu to determine the overall dimensional layout of the car’s interior." Made of steel, plastic and aluminum, Oscar is technically a “Comfort Dimensioning System,” assembled in 18 removable parts that weigh up to 170 pounds.
GM narrates the history of Oscar: "In the mid-1940s, (aircraft manufacturer) Northrop used a similar device named Oscar Eightball. The 185-pound aviation dummy was used for ejection seat and other testing. GM patented a similar tool for optimal interior space and comfort testing. Later on, the name was shortened to Oscar to differentiate the automotive from the aviation anthropomorphic test dummy."
Patented in 1961, Oscar is helpful in achieving optimum seat comfort for a market made up of ever-growing consumers. A 2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that a 95th-percentile adult male has grown from 6 feet 1 inch to 6 feet 2 inches since 1962, and from 217 to the current 270 pounds. A 95th-percentile adult female has grown from 5 feet 7 inches to 5 feet 8 inches since 1962, and from 199 to 250 pounds.
"Oscar is mechanically hinged at the hip or H point, which simulates the actual pivot center of the human torso and thigh," explains GM in a press statement. "Based on the H point, engineers and interior designers determine the necessary headroom and the optimal back angle that should be offered. All this data directly influences positioning of the steering wheel, the pedals, rearview mirrors, instrument panel and other driving controls to ensure that the Malibu provides maximum room and comfort for a broad spectrum of customers."
GM says Oscar can be assembled to represent an average (172-pound) adult male (50th percentile), scaled up to a 95th-percentile (270-pound) male, or reduced to a 5th-percentile (108-pound) female. A 95th-percentile adult, by the way, is larger than 95 percent of the population, while a 5th-percentile adult is smaller than 95 percent of the population.
Next time you drive your car, take time to appreciate its seat-comfort quality. There were actually people who toiled to design it that way.