Audi has 48 models, and plans to add 12 to 14 more. BMW is finding ever-finer ways to slice the substance of the 3-series family, by turning some of them into 4s and adding GT and Gran Cabrio versions. Even Rolls-Royce and Bentley are planning range expansions with an SUV and a small coupé.
Car makers are racing to build more luxury models at one end of the scale, value brand offerings at the other and a phalanx of SUVs and crossovers in the middle. Model proliferation and the filling of niches, segments and sectors has been the king trend across most of the industry these past 15 years, and there seems little sign of it stopping. Unless, that is, you canvas some views from Barcelona.
That’s where Seat is headquartered and where boss Jürgen Stackmann believes that containing his range and making a bigger effort to sell it can pay dividends. True, Seat is the perennial money-loser among the Volkswagen Group’s vast portfolio of brands, but Stackmann believes the company is heading for the sunlit uplands of profitability, and key to this mission is extracting the maximum sales from the models it already has.
Speaking recently at the Geneva motor show, Stackmann explained: "Expansion is not about new cars - it’s about having the right cars in the right segments. Adding more cars does not equal more sales. There’s lots of potential in the dealers and maximising the impact of the models we have. Adding three cars to the range won’t help - dealers drop a car, and add a car. Sales people struggle to memorise the specifications of 15 cars - they get lost." Take a look at today’s Vauxhall, Volkswagen and Audi ranges and it’s easy to understand why.
"The dealer network is one of the most underestimated powers in the industry," he says. "Distribution is about hard work, passion and trust. Nothing is harder to gain than the trust of the dealer network. But once you have it, they will move mountains for you." True, Seat might be about to add a compact SUV to its range - a decision on whether to go ahead is possible this week - but after that, Seat’s model expansion looks likely to end.
That will leave Stackmann to demonstrate his theory that more sales can be achieved by better exploiting Seat’s existing range in league with its dealers. Stackmann’s view runs completely counter to much of the industry’s, but when you see the choked showrooms of the more madly proliferated makes, packed with so many different models - many from Seat’s brand stablemates, interestingly - it’s easy to see some merit in his argument.