UK director Richard Harrison said £2.8bn of Volkswagen Group investment is propelling Seat forward

Seat UK director Richard Harrison believes the Spanish brand can achieve a faster rate of progress than Skoda following an investment of 3.3 billion euros (£2.8bn) from 2015.

At the launch of Seat’s first shopping mall store at Lakeside in Essex, Harrison said that the Volkswagen-owned marque has made strides forward just one year after the group began investing into its range, facilities and research and development.

“We’re like the kid who’s got their first job and is finally contributing to the household,” he told Autocar. “It’s been happening for about a year and a half since the investment began.”

Harrison explained that models such as the Leon and eagerly anticipated Ateca SUV have acted as catalysts for this improvement. The brand is now on course to report its highest profits ever of around £85 million - a dramatic change that follows eight years of loss making.

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Skoda enjoyed a similar turnaround of success following its acquisition by the Volkswagen Group in 1991. The Czech brand delivered more than one million cars to customers last year, breaking all of its previous records, showing that its image problem of the 20th century has been almost entirely been eradicated.

But Harrison believes Seat’s stronger starting position means his brand could do even better in the long term. “Seat hasn’t been given much attention in the past, but now this is our chance to really take off,” he continued. “Seat was already in a good position [with regards to image], and with the Ateca and Arona on the way, we’re really excited.”

The Arona, a new Nissan Juke-rivalling crossover, is confirmed for launch in December 2017. It follows the recently launched Ateca SUV and an all-new Ibiza, which is due in July. Harrison wouldn’t confirm if an Ateca Cupra was on the way, despite recent sightings of a development car, but he did suggest more hot models were due.

New Lakeside store

Harrison believes Seat’s new Lakeside shopping centre store is an example of the brand’s desire to try new things. He said the store, which employs similar soft sell techniques as the Rockar stores used by Hyundai and Land Rover, “puts Seat’s space in a place where the customers are already coming”.

Harrison said the Lakeside store has already earned the name the ‘innovation lab’ within Seat UK, because it evolves and responds to customer reactions. For example, the store has a stock of 71 cars, all available to be bought and driven away in within seven days, that can be changed and adapted based on customer demand.

“Our research found that many customers want that fast turnaround, like they get when they’re buying a new smartphone – they can walk away with one within a matter of days,” explained Matt Benns, head of customer quality & network development at Seat, who was also at the store launch. “The focus here is on simplicity.”

Benns revealed that around 90% of sales at the Lakeside shop, which officially opened in August, had been for PCP. For this reason the store advertises monthly payment prices more clearly than the outright cost of cars.

“I believe we’re going through a period of exciting change in the car industry,” added Harrison. “While I can’t tell you what [the dealer industry] will look like in a few years, I can say Seat is working to get a step ahead.”

Join the debate


7 December 2016
Probably one of the more underused brands of VW group.

Why is the Toledo not marketed?

7 December 2016
The company may be doing well but I still think it needs a stronger identity. Those of us with long memories might associate it with license built Fiats while latterly it has developed into a brand that sits somewhere between Skoda and VW, not quite as cheap as the former, not quite as good as the latter - and certainly not quite as sporty as an Audi. So it has become the "not quite there" brand. It needs a stronger image than the one presented by the strapline Created in Barcelona, I think.

7 December 2016
I bought my first one nearly 3 years ago - a new leon diesel
"sport tourer" with 184 BHP and a manual box. And I've been delighted. It's a great driving car, well equipped, looks good, and driven modestly turns in 60mpg on a run, or 45mpg if driven hard. I'm really happy, and it cost me 4k less than the equivalent golf GTD estate, and looks better. Good luck to them - making good cars that offer good value for money. If I change it'll be for the new Ateca - they've certainly got me.

7 December 2016
VW's intention for the SEAT brand was always to turn it into an Alfa Romeo competitor but with higher levels of quality and reliability. A bit of sporty Spanish flair combined with supposed German quality should have been a winner for them. They would have most likely achieved that aim if they hadn't repeatedly pulled out of the sports championships that they competed in. With commitment and perseverance they could have built a very strong racing reputation by now, 15 years after pulling out of the World Rally Championship. Handicapping the brand with inappropriate models like the truly woeful current Toledo and the worthy but off-message Alhambra doesn't help. The Polo-based Cordoba range from the 90's/early 2000's was dropped too which made little sense to me as it summarised the SEAT proposition better than any other car they've made. There have been some very promising concepts over the years too- anyone remember the Tango? A production version of that would have given the brand some real equity. Instead it got a range of fat MPV's that all looked the same and that few people wanted. Whoever is or has been responsible for product planning needs to have a word with themselves. Get rid of the Mii, Toledo and Alhambra. Pay attention to the core ranges of Ibiza and Leon but develop different bodystyles like a 2 door Cordoba replacement. Pander to the ever-growing SUV demand but make sure they are sporty. VW should be sharing platforms with SEAT that enable it to develop roadsters and coupes rather than city cars and people carriers.

7 December 2016
Alfa Romeo has had its own problems in recent years, but at least has a glamorous heritage. SEAT has none of that. It's a Spanish contract manufacturer. It has precisely zero great accomplishments to its name, and now is a mix of hatchbacks and crossovers, all with existing tech. No innovation. They are likeable enough, but not very interesting. They are buying a lot of coverage in Autocar though!

7 December 2016
scrap wrote:

Alfa Romeo has had its own problems in recent years, but at least has a glamorous heritage. SEAT has none of that.

If VAG had committed to properly to it's original intention with SEAT then it would have been 25 years into a motorsport 'heritage' by now. These things take time and commitment. Turning the mongrel SEAT into something with equity was always going to be a long game but they would have started seeing results now had they stuck with the plan and committed to motorsport. The 2000's were a disaster for SEAT with a range of fat Golfs and rebadged cast-offs- it was as if someone at VAG wanted SEAT to die.

7 December 2016
If they had wanted that they would have let it fall/stay in the Spanish governments hands

typos1 - Just can’t respect opinion

7 December 2016
xxxx wrote:

If they had wanted that they would have let it fall/stay in the Spanish governments hands

True enough xxxx. But Mr Harrison is certainly correct in saying “Seat hasn’t been given much attention in the past." in my humble opinion.

7 December 2016
As of 31.12.16,my local Seat dealer will be no longer doing sales,service and warranty closing, although it is part of a large group that continues to operate. I live in the largest town in the county and I will now have to travel 50 miles for the the above services. Why should I buy another Seat Mr Harrison?

8 December 2016
Another question for Mr Harrison.You can walk away with a new smartphone there and then not "in a few days". Dumb.


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