Seat has always struggled for identity within the Volkswagen family. For years it played the role of a cut-price Audi, an ill-fitting role that threatened its future after the global financial crash. From a peak of 435,000 sales in 2000, volumes fell to just 261,000 in 2012.
R&D boss Matthias Rabe is the man responsible for much of the renaissance since then, leading a product renaissance that has seen Seat making cars with a much more compelling identity of their own, and covering a much broader part of the market. Last year the company came close to 400,000 sales again; this year it should beat its earlier record. Rabe has proved he knows the brand and he’s good at creating a product that attracts new buyers.
Which is why the decision to create the new Cupra division is a bit of a head-scratcher. Things might be picking up, but how does the wider Seat brand benefit from splitting off its most interesting models, the ones that presumably reflect halo on the rest of the range, into what is effectively a separate brand? The name change and insistence of selling the same basic models from separately branded showrooms means it is easy to see this as being closer to the creation of a Vignale than a Renault Sport.