The Seat Leon-based SUV will appeal to buyers wanting better agility, practicality and more expressive design than available from rival makers, company boss Jürgen Stackmann has said.
The new SUV will launch as a Nissan Qashqai rival in 2016, and kickstart a family of crossovers made by the firm. It will be followed in 2017 by a new Nissan Juke-sized supermini SUV, and, if all goes to plan, a larger SUV with seven seats by 2020.
"The first test mules are on the road now and we are already optimistic for what is to come," said Stackmann. "We are looking for agility and precision from the dynamics, utility inside and great design that expresses our values. We have done a lot of research in to why people buy these kinds of vehicles and what our competitors already offer, and these characteristics should help us stand out.
"The design is perhaps the most interesting part. It is not about giving the vehicle a rough and tumble look - most will never go off-road. People buy these cars for their function, because the high seat gives them better visibility and a feeling of safety and because they express personality perhaps better than any other mainstream section of the car market."
The Seat Leon-based SUV will be built on VW Group's MQB platform and built by sister brand Skoda in the Czech Republic. Skoda is also planning its own seven-seat SUV, which will launch at the end of 2016.
Stackmann has previously revealed the firm's SUV was unlikely to have any connection with the Leon name, despite the new model having a similar footprint to the Spanish manufacturer's family hatchback.
A Cupra version is also being considered, according to Stackmann, with research underway on how far Seat's sporty brand can be extended. Even in standard form, the SUV will still be one of the sportiest cars in its class while retaining everyday usability and practicality.
The new SUV model currently exists as a full-size styling model at Seat’s Martorell design studio. Autocar has had a sneak preview of the as yet unnamed model. While the styling is in tune with the new Leon it has taken another step away from the dramatic body side blisters seen on the 2011 IBX concept.
Stackmann told Autocar that the new styling direction was part of Seat’s move towards emphasising “craftsmanship and very tight body construction”.
When it goes on sale, the new model should add significant volumes for the brand, with the segment expected to count for around 10% of all cars sold in Europe.
The launch of the SUV forms part of a broader growth strategy that aims to significantly bolster Seat’s sales, which totalled 355,000 in 2013, in future years. It has been developed and engineered at Seat’s technical headquarters in Martorell, Spain.
“This is great news. It takes Seat into new territory in one of the largest and fastest-growing segments in the world,” said Stackmann, when confirming the car would be built. “The SUV is an important pillar in the future corporate strategy and is a major step forward on the road to reaching sustainable profitability for the company.”
Banking analysts say that the Kvasiny factory, where the model will be built, benefits from low costs, particularly low hourly labour rates, which are said to be half of those in Spain and less than a third of the cost in Germany. Kvasiny also had spare capacity because a planned seven-seat Skoda MPV model was cancelled, a further reason why it is being built in the Czech Republic.
Sources say that, by 2016, Seat should be producing around 200,000 Leon models, 200,000 Ibizas, 100,000 SUVs and 100,000 units of the Alhambra and Mii model, finally pushing the brand into profit.