Seat is considering a major rebranding plan that would reposition the Spanish car maker further upmarket in the search for greater sales and profits. It is part of a broader strategy by parent company Volkswagen.
The plan was hinted at by Volkswagen chairman Herbert Diess on the sidelines of last month’s Frankfurt motor show. The move could lead to Seat taking the name of its newly established Cupra sub-brand ahead of the development of a new line-up of models and a concerted push into new global markets, including North America, by the middle of the next decade.
The possible rebranding of Seat forms part of a wider plan for further differentiation between each of Volkswagen’s key volume car brands. Nothing is official yet, although Diess indicated Skoda is set to adopt a more budget-oriented role and Seat may be taken further upmarket in a future-proofing move for both brands.
Diess told Autocar the Spanish firm’s best chance of long-term survival is to be positioned above Volkswagen as a more emotional premium brand, in the vein of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ Alfa Romeo. At the centre of concern for Seat is its high operating costs in relation to the current pricing level of key models like the Ibiza, Leon and Ateca. Diess hinted the cost basis of those cars is almost the same as their VW counterparts despite the price difference.
Although Diess praised the efforts of Seat boss Luca de Meo in boosting sales to more than 500,000 in 2018, he pointed to disappointing performances in key European markets such as Italy and France as just one reason to rethink Seat’s future direction.
Chairman of both Seat and Cupra, de Meo has already gone on the record about the issue of the Seat brand. Speaking at the launch of the Cupra division early last year, he said: “Seat has put a focus on growing and gaining credibility, but in some markets there is still some rejection of the Seat brand from people who are image sensitive.
“This we can fix, but we need time. Cupra is starting from scratch with something new. We start from a green field, and maybe with that we can attract customers who in other cases might not buy a Seat. Selling those kinds of cars for us is much more profitable. This allows us to increase the conquest of the brand.”
Next year, Cupra will move from its small base shared with the firm’s motorsport division to a new 2400-square metre HQ, having already increased its staffing levels by 50%. Cupra has sold more than 18,000 cars this year, an improvement of nearly 80% on 2018, despite having only two models – the Ateca and Leon – on sale so far.