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Seat to launch two SUVs in new product splurge

Published: 29 October 2014

Seat will pin its hopes of a successful turnaround on the launch of two, and possibly three, new SUVs - and the first is only 18 months away, the chairman has confirmed to CAR.

Chairman Jürgen Stackmann revealed that a pair of SUVs were in the product cycle, led by a compact crossover paired with the next-generation VW Tiguan. It will be shown at the Geneva motor show in 2016, with UK sales expected by September that year.

Targeting the runaway success story of the Nissan Qashqai, Seat’s SUV will be based on the same MQB architecture as the Leon hatchback and Golf set, meaning it will be available in two- and four-wheel drive and with a host of fuel-saving technology, he said.

Stackmann refused to reveal the car’s name, but it’s likely to follow the brand’s policy to badge its cars after Spanish towns and islands. Any guesses of what the Seat 4x4 could be called? Consult your Spain road map and let us know in the comments section below…

Why is Seat launching a crossover?

Simple economics, really: sales of SUVs continue to prosper, in the full-size, compact and baby crossover segments. Seat’s own analysis suggests the market in Europe for compact SUVs is 1.2 million cars a year. It’s a sector the company does not compete in today.

That’s why Seat will launch a Leon-on-stilts in 2016. The car will be built in cooperation with sister brand Skoda, at a Czech factory where Stackmann revealed labour costs were a quarter of what they were in Wolfsburg, and a half of that in Spain.

Seat has already shown a brace of SUV concepts: the IBX (white car above) and Tribu (yellow car).

And what about this baby Seat SUV?

Stackmann confirmed plans to launch a new, smaller SUV as well. To date, Seat has been too reliant on the Ibiza and, increasingly, the Leon hatchback family.

Now he wants to stretch the brand into all corners of the burgeoning crossover marketplace. And that means a pair of SUVs, led by 2016’s SUV - and with a baby 4x4 to challenge the Nissan Juke set a year of so later.

Although mid-sized SUVs are the biggest 4x4 marketplace today, the smaller breed led by the Juke, Skoda Yeti, Renault Captur and Peugeot 2008 are likely to leapfrog the larger SUVs in the long term.

Why isn’t Seat launching a sports car instead?

The company is being brutally realistic about its business plan. Stackmann did originally qualify as a bank clerk and a business administrator before taking jobs at Ford of Europe and Skoda, don’t forget.

His view is that Seat must follow consumer behaviour, so long as it’s consistent with the brand’s practical and passionate brand pillars. Sports cars simply, such as the Spanish firm’s Tango concept of 2001, wouldn’t generate the volumes required to be viable, warns Stackmann, hence looking to crossovers.

What will Seat look like in future?

Stackmann’s vision for Seat is to split the model range into three core model lines:

1) The Seat Ibiza and Leon
2) The new crossover family (Qashqai and Juke rivals)
3) The other models: Mii, Altea, Alhambra, Toledo

The German chairman was appointed as chairman of Seat in May 2013 and is steadily working a pragmatic turnaround plan for Volkswagen’s Spanish patient. The company is still loss-making, but Stackmann is confident his simple rescue package will help the company turn a profit sooner rather than later. He refused to divulge when the break-even point would arrive.

There are numerous questions to hand. Will Seat follow Skoda’s lead and launch in China? Not immediately, says Stackmann, who wants to focus on Europe and south America first. Could more SUVs follow? Very possibly, as he hints that a larger crossover/MPV could follow. And what about the sporty Cupra models? Their future is assured and more are bound to follow, he hints.

After the last decade’s inertia, it seems that Seat is finally coming of age. Sales are up 10% year to date, to 294,000 in the first nine months of 2014. With a devilishly young product portfolio and more to come, perhaps VW’s Spanish wing is finally firing on all cylinders.

By Tim Pollard

Editorial director of CAR's digital publishing arm. Motoring news magnet

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