SEAT has decided to stop working
It’s not every day that a brand with more than 70 years of history disappears from the automotive map of the world. The SEAT brand visited Russia four times and failed. Why did this happen
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- What is it
- Iconic models
- Reasons for liquidation
- New role
What is SEAT
SEAT (Sociedad Española de Automóviles de Turismo) — is a Spanish manufacturer of passenger cars and crossovers, which has been a subsidiary of the Volkswagen group since 1986. SEAT has more than 14 thousand employees. The headquarters, the engineering and design center and the main assembly plant of the company are located in the city of Martorel in the vicinity of Barcelona. A number of technological operations are carried out at the first SEAT plant in the Franca Zone, an industrial area of Barcelona. In addition, a number of models of the Spanish brand are produced at the Volkswagen group’s multi-brand enterprises in Germany, the Czech Republic, Portugal, and the SEAT Deutschland GmbH division in Merfelden-Waldorf (Germany) is developing electronic platforms and online services.
In 2022, 232 696 new SEAT cars were sold, of which more than 80% were exported to 72 countries. According to the results of last year, Germany became the main market for the company, with a large margin ahead of Spain and the UK following. Outside of Europe, SEAT operates most successfully in Mexico.
The title of bestseller No. 1 went to the subcompact crossover SEAT Arona, which accounted for more than 30%sales. In second place is the Ibiza small-class hatchback (22%), and in third place is the Ateca compact crossover (21%).
The total circulation of SEAT models since the formation of the company in 1950 exceeded 16 million copies.
Death sentences, as a rule, are announced dryly, without emotion. So this time Thomas Schaefer, the head of the Volkswagen concern, not at the general meeting of shareholders, but in an interview with the British edition of Autocar, announced that SEAT would stop producing cars after the end of the life cycle of the current generation models. This is how the history of the only major automobile company in Spain, which began in 1950, ends quite casually.
Let’s recall the main stages of SEAT’s activity.
- May 9, 1950: a joint venture was formed, the founders of which included the State Spanish Institute of Industry (INI), which became the main shareholder, private banks in Spain and the largest Italian automobile company FIAT, which then won the competition from Volkswagen.
- June 5, 1953: entered into operation the company’s first factory in the industrial zone of Barcelona.
- November 13, 1953: the first model of the brand SEAT 1400, a mid-class sedan that was a licensed copy of the FIAT 1400, came off the assembly line of the company.
SEAT 1400, 1954 (Photo: Seat)
- 1963: The SEAT 800, an elongated four-door variant based on the FIAT 600, became the first model of the brand that did not have a direct analogue in the line of the Italian donor.
- 1965: the beginning of export deliveries.
- 1967: SEAT becomes the leader in terms of sales in the home market.
- 1975: the first model of its own design was released, the three-door compact hatchback SEAT 1200 Sport.
SEAT 1200 Sport, 1975 (Photo: Seat)
- 1982: termination of cooperation with FIAT due to disagreements over the volume of investments in the development of SEAT. Signing of an agreement with Volkswagen Concern on the release of Passat-Santana and Polo-Derby under license.
- 1984: SEAT Ibiza Mk1 became the first model of a Spanish company of its own design in the status of an independent manufacturer.
- June 18, 1986: Volkswagen Group acquires a controlling stake in SEAT.
- December 18, 1990: SEAT becomes the full property of Volkswagen Group.
SEAT Toledo Mk1, 1991 (Photo: Seat)
- 1991: launch of the SEAT Toledo Mk1, the first model of the Spanish brand after its acquisition by Volkswagen.
- February 22, 1993: the launch ceremony of the new SEAT plant in Martorel.
- 1996: The SEAT Alhambra Mk1 minivan becomes the first model of the brand released abroad, in Portugal.
- 1996–1998: SEAT Ibiza Kit-Sag becomes a three-time winner of the World Rally Championship in the FIA 2-Litre category.
SEAT Ibiza Kit Car Evo, 1996 (Photo: Seat)
- 2000: presentation of the SEAT “auto emoci”n” slogan, reflecting the brand’s new youth orientation and sportiness. The SEAT Sport racing division becomes responsible for designing the brand’s high-performance models.
- 2002–2007: SEAT is part of the Audi Brand Group division, which unites the three most sporty brands of the Volkswagen group.
- 2008–2009: Seat Leon TDI twice wins the World championship among body models.
- 2018: in parallel with SEAT, the Cupra brand, distinguished by its pronounced sportiness, was launched, which took its name from the top versions of the models of the parent company.
- September 2023: announcement of the termination of the production of cars under the SEAT brand.
SEAT failure in Russia
SEAT tried to enter Russia four times, and each time it ended with a decision to curtail its activities. The first attempt was in 1996, then in 2003, and again the cars did not go. In 2007, the independent company Iberia Motor Rus, at that time the exclusive importer of SEAT cars in Russia, officially announced the start of its work on the sale of cars of the Spanish brand. The company offered SEAT Ibiza in various trim levels at a price from $16,990 to $30,990, Leon from $24,190 to $44,990, Altea from $24,890 to $40,990, Sordoba from $17 490 to $23,490, Toledo from $25,490 to $34,490.
Experts were skeptical about SEAT’s entry into the market. They accused Volkswagen of not being interested in promoting SEAT on the Russian market, and the latter’s pricing policy was always inadequate. Dealers at that time called the amount of $12,000 a suitable price for Ibiza in the basic version.
SEAT Ibiza FR, 2006 (Photo: Seat)
At the same time, SEAT representatives have repeatedly admitted that they are forced to share markets with Skoda: in those countries where Czech cars sell well, Spanish cars go badly and vice versa. The Russian representative office confirms this pattern with a groan: if SEAT and Skoda are under the same roof, then Seat sales are catastrophically small.
This time, cars were also sold in Russia for a short time: due to the devaluation of the ruble, it became unprofitable to import them.
The next arrival of SEAT followed in 2012, the brand was again unable to gain a foothold due to all the same problems: poor equipment and high prices. As a result, on January 1, 2015, SEAT stopped selling in Russia. Volkswagen Group Rus explained this by the reduction of the segments in which the brand is represented (budget small cars), the general economic situation and currency fluctuations.
Dealers at that time had long noted a drop in brand sales, explaining this not so much by the general stagnation of the market, as by the “lack of competitive models” and “inefficiency of advertising policy”.
Later sources Autonews.ru the Volkswagen concern called the last attempt to enter Russia “an extremely unsuccessful decision”.
Iconic SEAT models
In the range of SEAT, it is worth highlighting a quartet of the most iconic models in the entire history of the brand, with which Russians during the presence of “Spaniards” in our market managed to get acquainted in person.
1. SEAT Ibiza
SEAT Ibiza, 2022 (Photo: Seat)
The five generations of the compact three- or five-door front-wheel drive hatchback, which were replaced from 1984 to 2017, all without exception, turned out to be commercially successful, which turned Ibiza into the main bestseller of the brand. And this is understandable. So, outstanding designers Giorgetto Giugaro, Walter de Silva, Luc Donkervolke worked on the creation of the Ibiza look in different years, and Porsche specialists created power units for the first-born of the line. The result of a serious approach to design was high reliability, subsequently the trademark of Ibiza. Recognizing the importance of the model for SEAT, Volkswagen has twice entrusted Ibiza with the presentation of its new platforms for supermini.
2. SEAT Toledo
SEAT Toledo, 2013 (Photo:Seat)
For almost 30 years (1991-2019), containing four generations of the model, SEAT Toledo managed to visit both a liftback with a sedan profile, and a four-door notchback, and even a minivan-like hatchback. In addition to Spain, the front-wheel drive model was assembled in Belgium, Ukraine and the Czech Republic. Toledo ‘s affiliation withgolf class with the appropriate selection of Volkswagen group platforms. Interesting fact: Chinese Chery started with semi-legal production in 1999-2006 of the first generation Toledo.
3. SEAT Altea
SEAT Altea, 2009 (Photo: Seat)
The compact van, produced from 2004 to 2015, went down in SEAT history as a pilot carrier of a new vintage style and a kind of tester of the crossover direction not mastered by the Spanish company: the Altea Freetrack version received increased ground clearance and all-wheel drive.
4. SEAT Leon
SEAT Leon, 2020 (Photo: Seat)
Another representative of the golf class in the SEAT line, Leon, in the third and current, fourth generation appeared not only in the guise of a hatchback, but also a station wagon St. “The King” of the Leon brand made high-power modifications of Cupra, whose gasoline turbo engines produced up to 300 hp, and the current “The charged ST even got a 310-horsepower powerplant and for the first time in the history of the model, all-wheel drive. In the fourth generation, Leon also appeared in the guise of a “soft” and “rosette” hybrid. The history of the “Spanish lion”, which began in 1999, continues”hellip;
Reasons for SEAT liquidation
Thomas Schaefer, in the same interview with Autocar, cited a decrease in sales volumes as the reason for curtailing the production of SEAT cars. Having peaked at 549 416 cars in the “pre-pandemic” 2019, at the end of last year they decreased to 232 696 copies. The financial performance of the Spanish branch also left much to be desired for a long time, and the symbolic profit of 67.5 million euros received in 2022 did not compensate for the losses previously incurred.
However, this is only a reflection of a more fundamental problem, which has not been solved. SEAT, despite its long history, has remained a “secondary” brand without its own bright character. It did not work out to replace it with purely design solutions, just as it did not work out to find some non-trivial move like what Skoda did, which, after joining the Volkswagen group, turned inventive practicality into its hobby. In a word, SEAT did not become a Spanish Saab, although both companies, albeit to varying degrees, were originally related to the aviation industry (Jose Ortiz-Echague Puertas, the first president of SEAT, came from it). And since there were no really bright ups, then the fall does not cause strong emotions. Maybe SEAT will have better luck in a new role?
The usual SEAT is leaving, but a new SEAT is coming. The head of the Volkswagen group said that the Spanish brand has a different role. What would that mean? There are suggestions that the production of modern means for urban mobility can be organized under the SEAT brand: electric scooters, quadricycles, etc.
And the car field will continue to operate — and this is for sure — dynamically developing brand Cupra, focused on the production of powerful electric vehicles of different classes. It looks like the SEAT will not disappear without a trace.
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