I’ve seen first-hand the weight of this expectation grind down his predecessors as Seat struggled to become number one in its home market, solidify its brand image and establish a coherent model range.
So, what might Renault expect from its new CEO?
De Meo is charming and oozes confidence, while his achievements point to a substance, for example the backbone added to Seat’s model range by expansion into SUV and crossovers.
These are the right models at the right time, which some critics might point out would sell anyway. But Seat has got the models, marketing and core strategy right, and de Meo deserves the credit for that. In that sense, he’s successfully deployed experience from his time at Fiat, where he concocted the marketing plan for the new Fiat 500.
Seat’s brand has also crystallised around a fun-loving but meaningful Spanish image that’s sufficiently separated from dependable Volkswagen and sober Skoda, at the same time attracting younger buyers – many of them Autocar readers.
De Meo has also proved adept at winning billions of euros of investment from the Volkswagen Group Board — previously scarred by failed investments in Seat — for model range expansion. I apologise in advance for reminding readers of the Exeo, a rebadged Audi A4, the bizarre Toledo MPV thingy, the very similar Altea and the long-wheelbase Altea XL (why?!).
In contrast, de Meo has brought discipline to Seat’s product line, delivering well-engineered and well-built models with coherent styling – not his personal work, of course, but a demonstration that he can extract the best from those around him.
Costs, for example, have been controlled in areas such as interior design, but de Meo will have been involved in refereeing the decision-making to deliver cars that remain attractive and good-value.
In that regard, he owes more than a little to Matthias Rabe, his former chief engineer and a reliable counsel on platforms and powertrains. Certainly, de Meo has been keen at press events to share the light of his success with the board of management, who turn out en masse for financial announcements. At the Barcelona mobility conference, he ensured board members joined him for photo opps.
De Meo also oversees a factory in Barcelona that’s entrusted with making Group products such as the Audi A1 and Audi Q3 and is the Volkswagen Group’s lead plant for 'Industry 4.0' smart manufacturing.
Again, de Meo might not work the production computers, but keeping the workforce strike-free and working efficiently to impress Wolfsburg is no mean feat.
Whoever follows him has big shoes to fill, but Seat’s loss looks to be Renault’s gain. If de Meo does surface there, as expected, he faces huge challenges in repairing the damage from non-stop Nissan Alliance back-stabbing, while plotting a new course for France’s top-selling car maker. But de Meo is well placed to succeed.
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