Q&A: Seat CEO Luca de Meo on the brand's success, future growth, electric cars and plans for the Cupra badge

Seat is in the middle of a major expansion. Following the successful launch of the Ateca SUV last year, the Spanish firm returned to profit last year, and has just launched its new compact SUV, the Arona.

The growth won’t stop there: at the launch of the Arona, Seat revealed it was planning to launch six new cars by 2020, including its new seven-seat SUV and an all-electric model.

Autocar caught up with Seat CEO Luca de Meo at the Arona’s launch in Barcelona to find out about the firm’s plans for the future.

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What does success for Seat look like in the future?

“One, I’d be very glad to show for many years consistency for the Seat brand, for its business and its development. One of the things we’ve missed is stability. Two, in 10 years I’d like to see Seat as a more global brand than today, a little bit more global in a few more markets. Three, I'd like to see Seat meet the challenge of CO2 limits, for Seat to have met the targets of 2021 and then in 2025, and to have done it in an economically viable way. It’s a challenge for every car maker."

How many cars can Seat ultimately sell? It sold 408,700 last year.

"I don’t know. Europe is a substantial and stable market. We have a strong capacity to attract people from the competition, as seven out of 10 of our customers are new to the brand. There’s no huge opportunity to grow anywhere, although we underperform in markets like my own country, Italy, and in France. I’d like us to do better there.

“Me selling an extra 50,000 cars isn’t going to change the industry; we need to find a way to have a sustainable, profitable business for Seat. For seven years in a row, we lost money. It was difficult. Now we’re out of the water and it’s a good feeling to be out. I want to make sensible decisions to keep it in the black now."

Will you a launch a car bigger than your upcoming seven-seat SUV?

“The ceiling is there. Beyond that, we won’t do. Premium is a bit overdone. We’re not a premium brand. We need to match a quality standard, and need to beat the Ateca with this car [the Arona], but the idea with this is to address us being able to offer a family car. This car also generates the profits we need to invest short-term in technology that costs a lot of money.”

Will you launch any extra models outside of your traditional markets? 

“We have cars in the B and C segment, our centre of gravity and speciality is in small and medium cars. We have to find a way to make more money on compact cars. People will always need them and we can offer them those cars.”

Where can you grow?

“Our first phase of growth was to enlarge the product range. Now we have five or six competitive models. You won’t see that product growth rate in the next few years. We will focus on making the next-generation Leon family even stronger. It’s a challenge to use our money, a challenge to invest in powertrain technology like hybrids, electric cars, CNG (compressed natural gas), mild hybrids, plug-in hybrids… You won’t see four new products a year like now. I see growth with more engine variants.

“In the B-segment, we have a five-door and crossover [Ibiza and Arona] and cover 80% of the market. With small coupés and cabriolets, they are not on the agenda and you don’t find a business case for them.”

How can you expand the Cupra range?

“We have the potential to develop Cupra. It’s louder in some markets than others; the concept has potential. We haven’t found a technical set-up yet [for the Ibiza] to be suitable for a very successful hot hatch with a sound business case. The demand is going down so much for these cars that it’s hard to find the volumes. Not in the UK, as it is still there, but in other markets.”

What are your plans for an electric car?

“There are lots of decisions in the Volkswagen Group on electrification. We’ve invested in the platform, and Seat is looking at the opportunity. We’re already working on it. As we don’t have tonnes of money, we have a few cars and need the right number. An electric vehicle for 2020 is a great number, but we have a planning process ending in September/October that lasts for five years. We’re using that time to set priorities. We’re not Volkswagen or Toyota, we have to be pretty focused. It’s a life of trade-offs.”

Read more

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