Seat set to ditch cars by 2030

Seat set to ditch cars by 2030

The time-honored Spanish automobile marque, Seat, persists in revising its Ibiza, Leon, and Arona lineups to render vehicles with combustion engines and plug-in hybrids by 2030. Beyond this juncture, the “S” in the radiator grille may cease to exist, and Ateca and Tarraco could face the possibility of obsolescence.

Instead, Seat is projected to continue extending its reach as a mobility service provider. The Spanish automaker boasts ample experience through its subsidiary, Seat MÓ, having dispensed roughly 10,000 electric two-wheelers in 15 markets over the past two years. However, Seat must also cater to recycling, sharing, subscriptions, and micro-mobility for burgeoning demographics after 2030. Moreover, the company is likely to persist in producing vehicles for other marques in the Volkswagen Group, primarily at the Martorell plant. The Volkswagen Group has already disclosed such intent for small and compact electric cars with reference to the ID.2 and Skoda Small.

Position in the Volkswagen Group

As the Spanish subsidiary of the VW Group, which also operates as SEAT SA, the Spanish automotive brand’s Seat and Cupra are intrinsically linked. However, the demands and perceptions of the two “marques” – as their leader, the Briton Wayne Griffiths, would likely characterize them – are notably dissimilar.

On the one hand, the venerable Seat, which has surpassed 70 years of age and is somewhat antiquated, has already grappled with its identity within the conglomerate. On the other hand, the fledgling Cupra, merely four years old, is still discovering how to harness its energy and aspirations. Nevertheless, even in the midst of the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the brand is experiencing a string of triumphs.

In commemoration of the anniversary festivities, Griffiths proclaims with a somewhat inauthentic tone: “We aim to further cement Cupra’s position – particularly in Germany, as one cannot attain establishment in just four years.” However, he also sets ambitious objectives, seeking to double the total sales figure for 2021, which was at least 79,300 vehicles, by 2022.

While the newcomer still lags significantly behind its veteran sibling brand (which sold 391,200 vehicles in 2021), the trend favors Cupra. Seat, by contrast, experienced a sales decline of two percent in the same period, while Cupra’s sales figures almost tripled from 2020 to 2021. It is for this reason that the new strategy is referred to as Cupra² – not merely a doubling, but rather a significant elevation.

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The priority is with Cupra

The prospective potential is prodigious, hence, Cupra is ambitiously striving to achieve a twofold increase in sales, which would elevate the brand to a noteworthy position within the five billion euro range. Evidently, Griffiths does not conceal his preference for one brand over the other, stating: “Cupra has priority within the Seat Group.” The affirmation of this prioritization originates from the highest echelons of the corporate hierarchy in Wolfsburg. Former VW CEO Herbert Diess implied that Volkswagen’s electrification plans are mostly divorced from the traditional Seat brand, but not so with the spry and dynamic Cupra brand. During his recent visit to Spain, Diess and King Felipe were primarily briefed on the Cupra strategy by Griffiths.

Seat operates relatively independently, yet also collaborates with Cupra in a complementary capacity. Cupra is slated to metamorphose into an exclusively electric brand, targeting youthful demographics across the globe from its Spanish base. “After 2030” (possibly in 2031 or 2032), Griffiths elaborates that the trendy marque will be fully electric. To illustrate the promptness of this transformation, the Briton unabashedly compares Cupra to the big hitters: “Together with Porsche, Cupra will be the fastest to electrify within the VW Group,” asserting that Seat and Cupra will invest differently in e-mobility. However, he dutifully emphasizes that both brands offer distinct vehicles that cater to different clientele, and Cupra does not come at the cost of a Seat. Despite this, the subtext is always clear: Seat represents the antiquated world of combustion engines, whereas Cupra is the embodiment of youthful, modern, and electric aspirations.

Cupra is becoming more international

Furthermore, Cupra is perceived to possess a superior global outlook vis-à-vis Seat in the context of the Spanish brand association. This holds true not only for image considerations but also for linguistic factors. “Seat faces a daunting challenge in Anglo-Saxon countries,” asserts Griffiths.

Cupra is poised to commence operations in the Australian metropolis of Sydney imminently and is expected to make inroads into the United States in the future. Seat, on the other hand, plays a subsidiary role in the internationalization roadmap. Volkswagen (VW) does not necessitate a secondary budget-oriented entry-level brand in its portfolio, a role that is already fulfilled by Skoda.

In contrast to Seat, Skoda performs exceedingly well in the global arena, thereby earning the mantle of the VW Group’s flagbearer in price-sensitive growth markets, such as India. Notwithstanding, what is still wanting is youthful dynamism that can be leveraged across the world, which is a gap that Cupra is well-equipped to address.

The products intended for the global expansion strategy will originate from the Martorell plant. The facility is expected to specialize in exclusively producing electric vehicles, incorporating the requisite local battery cell production. Diess announced that Spain could potentially emerge as a European hub for electric mobility, while on a site visit.

Timely with this declaration, the “el Born,” which was originally planned as an electric Seat, has been rebranded as “Born” and entirely repositioned under Cupra. It has been available with retailers since the conclusion of 2021, and this development exemplifies Cupra’s distinctive character.

Cupra ensures that its presence is felt in the prime city centers of European metropolises, as opposed to drab, functional edifices located in the periphery. The salespersons in these stores are also designated as “Cupra Masters,” endeavoring to ensure an intensely personalized shopping experience. In this vein, Cupra aligns itself with the premium category, striving to maximize the distance between itself and Seat’s unremarkable mass-market existence.

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Cupra conjures two new models out of a hat

The efficacy of the fixed relabeling approach is derived from the underlying MEB substructure of Volkswagen, which is situated at the rear of the Cupra nose. As the inaugural performance-oriented derivative of the VW ID.3, the Cupra Born represents a significant milestone. The Cupra Tavascan, which debuted as a study at the 2019 IAA in Frankfurt, is expected to follow suit, most likely in 2024.

Here, Seat leverages VW’s inventory, as the Tavascan’s dynamic design conceals the VW ID.4 platform. Cupra has also been given the green light to extend the scope of the planned VW models ID.1 and ID.2 to include the sporty electric compact car Urban Rebel, which created a stir as a chic concept study at last year’s IAA. While the 435 horsepower showcased in the concept is unlikely to be replicated in the series version scheduled for release in 2025, there is little doubt that the vehicle will not be short on excitement.

But is this enough to sustain the sales volumes of a niche brand such as Cupra? By no means! To commemorate the company’s fourth anniversary, Wayne Griffiths has announced two additional models that were previously unknown and are slated for introduction over the next two years.

Though no further details have been disclosed, it is rumored that one of the models will be another MEB derivative. According to the CEO, “There is still room for a car that is not a BEV, but is electrified.” This suggests that the other model could be a plug-in hybrid, which, due to packaging constraints, is only viable in a larger vehicle.

Now it’s even going into the metaverse

Despite Seat’s recent adoption of the latest style of play, it is Cupra who has positioned themselves as the “early adopter” in the virtual world known as the Metaverse, or what the Spaniards call Metahype. This collaborative space serves as a platform for various brands, startups, and creatives to offer diverse events and experiences that foster the creation and sharing of culture.

Wayne Griffiths explains that Cupra intends to showcase artistic content such as NFTs, digital and physical products, and streamed content in this virtual environment. Cupra’s vision extends to the creation of a dedicated space in the Metahype universe that could potentially function as a distribution channel in the future. Furthermore, the Cupra² Experience blurs the lines between the real and virtual worlds, allowing drivers to participate in motorsport events using virtual reality technology.

It is conceivable that Cupra’s sales channels will expand into the virtual world, given Griffiths’ background in sales. Meanwhile, Seat is focusing on electrification and digitization. According to an insider at the group, the brand will be phased out “for the foreseeable future,” sparking fierce opposition from the Spanish works council. Without an electric model by 2029, the council fears that Seat will be doomed, leading to significant job losses at Spanish locations.

VW and Seat avoid a clear statement

Formally, it is worth noting that neither Wolfsburg nor Martorell evinces any acquiescence to the purported plan. An official communiqué issued by Seat and Volkswagen one year prior to this communication intimated that Cupra was conceived to augment Seat, and both marques were not in opposition, nor could either supplant the other.

They were of equal significance and functioned in a strategic capacity for the Volkswagen Group. Presently, Griffiths delivers a comparable assertion, stating that Seat endures and remains well positioned with Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) and Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs). If Cupra prospers, it augurs well for Seat too.

The erstwhile Volkswagen CEO Diess also pledged to invest €7 billion in the Spanish VW activities over the forthcoming years in the “Handelsblatt”. Carnero, however, dismisses this as mere window dressing, arguing that €5 billion of this amount is set aside for Volkswagen’s recent battery plant located near Valencia. While Cupra stands to benefit from this initiative, Seat does not.

In conclusion, what has long been conjectured now appears to be validated: Seat should cease marketing its current automobiles after 2030. This is according to a press release from the Dutch public relations department of the Spanish automaker. The focus will primarily be on the flourishing and youthful Cupra brand, which will wholly depend on electric mobility. Meanwhile, Seat is contemplating a future as a provider of mobility services.