► New Seat chief spells out vision
► Four new models in 18 months
► Ateca first, two more SUVs follow
The arrival this week of the new Seat Ateca - a Qashqai from Spain, if you will - fires the starting gun in a period of exciting expansion in Barcelona.
Volkswagen's Spanish outpost hasn't always posted enviable sales figures, financial results or glitzy image in recent years. Even new chief Luca de Meo admitted to CAR it was 'an underrated brand' that's had more than its fair share of 'ups and downs,' but he is confident a burst of product development 'unrivalled in the past 20 years' will put this right.
'The company and organisation I find here in Barcelona is much stronger than the image it projects outside,' the president told us.
Ateca: first of three new SUVs
In a break with the usual smoke and mirrors involving future products, de Meo has confirmed to CAR that a further two crossovers will join the Ateca, as Seat ploughs headlong into the fastest growing sector of the marketplace.
He predicts sales of SUVs will continue to rise by a further 25% in western Europe. Which explains the new crossover focus:
- Ateca Qashqai rival, on sale in September 2015
- Baby crossover Juke rival, expected in early 2018
- Full-size SUV X-Trail rival, with space for seven seats, by decade's end
De Meo calls for these cars to be proper standalone models, not mere clones of VW group products. 'In general we have to avoid badge engineering - we need to do authentic cars,' he claimed. 'We haven't always got this right in the past: Toledo, Exeo... it does not really work.'
And what's the fourth new Seat?
No word yet. De Meo sees the arrival of the Ateca and the ensuing SUVs as 'the third pillar' of the company, adding to the Ibiza and Leon mainstays. For reference, the Leon sold 160,000 units globally in 2015 - nearly half the 400,000 sales total.
'We are the biggest industrial employer in Spain, but we are not VW,' he added. 'We cannot do everything at once - so it's right to do the SUVs first. They will be very good for our business.'
However, de Meo vowed that Seat would not desert its sporty roots. 'Cupra and FR are very important for us. Will there be an Ateca Cupra? Possibly. Some members of the board are pushing for it, but we are assessing the business case.
'We looked at doing a three-door coupe like the Leon Cross Sport but there was no business case, no volume.'