Monday December 19, 2016
By Richard Bosselman
EXPECTATION is that VW’s sunny dispositioned SEAT brand will take less time to introduce itself to Kiwi customers than DNA-related potential competitor Skoda.
The man charged with establishing this VW Group marque in New Zealand – who, for now, is also its only employee – says the potential is that the brand whose arrival ‘completes the set’ of mainstream VW-made models that all share common platforms, drivetrains and technology, will achieve similar market penetration as the Czech cousin, which re-established in modern format in 2008, but in less time.
James Yates is in a good position to know: He led the introduction of the ‘new-era’ (meaning VW-directed) Skoda into this market before heading off to run Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo operations here.
Yates will not share his volume aspirations for SEAT, but says it will be a stayer even if just a handful find homes in the first year of sale.
“We’re hoping that it will have a faster start than Skoda did ... they took a while to get up to 500 units (per annum) and we would think SEAT can do that in less time than Skoda.”
However, there will be no base count that SEAT will have to better, he adds.
Yates also believes the New Zealand car market is big and robust enough now to allow SEAT to play nicely with its relations – foremost Skoda, because its products are most likely to price-align - but also the more premium VW and Audi marques.
He also enforces that SEAT will not completely compare with Skoda because the Spanish product is set to sit in a $30-$60,000 price band, so slightly lower than the Czech fare.
While acknowledging potential for “a multi-brand battle”, he says SEAT will also push to present as an alternative to the Mazda3 and, potentially, Holden Astra and Ford Focus.
SEAT will start up in mid-2017 with its latest products; the Ateca, a brand new medium sports utility that only started production in mid-2016, is developed off the latest Volkswagen Tiguan (but slightly smaller) and is built for SEAT by Skoda, which intends to create its own version for next year as well.
SEAT’s other launch model is the Leon medium hatch, set to be provided in mainstream and Cupra performance formats. It seems New Zealand could become one of the first right-hand-drive markets for the 2017 Leon that was only unveiled by SEAT in October and will be available in Europe from next month.
It is also hoping to secure two more cars, a new Ibiza small hatch that shares DNA with the VW Polo and a compact crossover variant, the Arona, off VW’s MQB platform.
There are also rumours about a large sports utility, potentially a sister ship to the Skoda Kodiaq that will be here next year. Yates says a big SUV would be tasty, but says it might also come at a price that sits above the
The only SEAT apparently only on a favourite’s list appears to be the Alhambra MPV, due to the low take-up of that format.
“We obviously will have SUV product because that is where the market is. But we’re not just focussing on SUV – we will also have the other product here, too.
“The product looks really good. The build quality looks really good and the designs are very distinctive.”
The initial SEAT dealership will be in Auckland; invariably – but not until at least a year after the first outlet begins business - other main centres will also have representation. Whether it also spreads to the regions is not yet clear. There still no certainty, either, that SEAT will necessarily represent in outlets that have other VW Group brands.
“We haven’t got that far. What I want to say is that we want to do it properly in terms of corporate identity and the like,” said Yates.
We are going to give it the best chance it has of making a go of it so we will focus first on that Auckland dealership.
“It is probable we will at least go to the other main centres but we are certainly not saying that we will not go the regions at some point. It depends on the model range.”
About that. Seat has recently announced a new Ibiza small car, for international introduction in 2017, and is also working on a compact crossover, expected to component share with the new Audi Q2 that comes on sale here in early 2017. Those cars are also in Yates’ sights.
“We know those are coming and there are rumours of others coming as well and they will certainly help with the volume aspirations that we have.”
This is second time around for the brand but it is very different that when it represented last time, during the 1980s, with the Moller Group. Back then SEAT was a standalone Spanish brand and its cars were budget fare built, priced and provisioned accordingly.
Yates began working on re-establishing SEAT about a year ago, and travelled to the brand’s Barcelona headquarters in May for a global dealer conference at which future product plans were aired.
VW Group national rights are held by the Giltrap family’s European Motor Distributors operation, and SEAT is quite literally operating right alongside Skoda and VW – the head offices are all in the same building.