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Shanghai show: Seat sets sail for Shanghai

New horizons: Seat's Golf-based Leon will be among the Spanish brand's inaugural models to go on sale in China.

Spanish brand Seat to exhibit two cars at Shanghai ahead of Chinese launch in 2012

18 Apr 2011

SPANISH car brand Seat is the latest Western carmaker to announce plans to enter the huge Chinese market, starting with a presence at this week’s Shanghai motor show, which it will use to “establish the brand in the mind of potential customers before sales begin”.

Seat plans to export its Spanish-built Leon small car and Ibiza light-size model to China from next year, having “identified a large demand for distinctive European cars among Chinese consumers”.

Seat’s owner, Volkswagen Group, has attempted to establish the brand as a kind of Spanish Alfa Romeo, pitching design-heavy cars with sporting overtones and keen pricing to a young-at-heart market.

It sold 431,000 cars worldwide in 2007 before declining to 336,683 in 2009, a figure it improved by just one per cent in 2010, and has returned a profit only once in the past five years.

Things are looking up this year, with exports up 12 per cent and sales up 1.3 per cent year-to-date, with the biggest percentage gains in Italy (up 34.8 per cent), Latin America (up 41.5 per cent) and the Middle East (up 44.4 per cent).

 center imageFrom top: Seat range, Seat Exeo, Seat Alhambra, Seat Ibiza.

Seat also regained the title of best-selling brand in its native Spain for the first time in 31 years, having sold 11,560 cars there in the first two months of this year – a great 60th birthday present for the company.

Seat’s Martorell plant near Barcelona will be used by Volkswagen Group stablemate Audi to manufacture the new Q3 luxury crossover – a move that will further aid the brand’s balance sheet and the Spanish economy at large.

The signs are positive for Seat’s move into China – parent company Volkswagen is well established there and virtually wrote the book for Western vehicle brands in that country – and could well signal the defining point in the brand’s turnaround.

Seat president James Muir said: “Our research shows that Chinese car buyers value performance and dynamism. Furthermore, technology and state-of-the-art engineering are important to them and they are very design-conscious.

“On this basis, we are satisfied that Seat will bring something fresh and new to the car market in China, helping us to establish a brand identity and a position in the market.”

In 2008 the Ibiza hatch debuted Volkswagen Group’s light-car platform that now underpins the Polo and Audi A1 and, fitted with a DSG dual-clutch auto, became the first car in its class to be available with a seven-speed transmission.

The Golf-based Leon range was facelifted in 2009 and is capped by the front-wheel-drive Cupra R flagship, which shares its 2.0-litre 195kW/350Nm turbocharged petrol engine with Volkswagen’s Scirocco R coupe – meaning it is more powerful than the 188kw/330Nm all-wheel-drive Golf R and 101kg lighter.

Australian Seat stock ran dry in 1999 after the brand pulled out of the market and it is unlikely to return as Volkswagen Group Australia has enough on its plate trying to establish the Skoda brand locally.

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