Hasta la vista SEAT (more or less)… the future is Cupra

Image credit: By SEAT S.A. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=63313201

It looks like SEAT’s days are numbered …at least in the form we’re used to.

According to Thomas Schafer, head honcho at Core (the big four VW Group brands – VW, Audi, SEAT and Audi):

“The future of SEAT is Cupra, that we decided a long time ago.”

The current SEAT line-up will run its course, probably into the next decade, but there will be no new investment after that. And no investment means no new models.

“The company will still remain SEAT in Spain, and we will probably find a different role for it – so we’re not shutting it down or anything”, says Schafer.

But what sort of different role? AutoExpress suggests that SEAT will end up being the brand for electric scooters and micro-vehicles. After selling millions of cars to mainstream buyers, that sounds a lot like being demoted from star player to club janitor.

This was all foretold

So SEAT will be quietly put out to pasture, and it’s no surprise to industry commentators.

The first sign was the VW Group going quiet about SEAT. For some time. there’s been no breathless announcements and not many plans. Just over a year ago, Sammy Chan (senior analyst at LMC Automotive), commented: “…might we be witnessing the demise of the Spanish brand?” Then in March 2023, Alistair Crooks at Auto Express had the same feeling, beginning his article with: “I attended a press conference held by SEAT recently and it did not fill me with confidence for the Spanish brand’s future.”

Not all the motoring faithful were convinced [see comments].

“Sorry but what planet are you on, the SEAT brands are selling more and more year after year…”

And to be fair, Mr. What Planet had a point. According to Driving magazine:

Last year Seat S.A. saw operating profit increase by €550 million (around £486m) and turnover grow to 10.5 billion euros (£9.3bn) — the second-largest turnover in the company’s 73-year history.

So why relegate a brand that’s still pulling in the punters?

The cooler, smarter stablemate

Ah yes, SEAT’s doing well, but guess who’s doing even better? SEAT’s younger, cooler stablemate, Cupra.

Cupra, you’ll remember, used to be the name for range-topping, sportier SEATs. The SEAT Leon Cupra in particular had built up its own devoted fanbase. But in 2018, SEAT execs decided to launch Cupra as a distinct brand, and now the name is getting some real traction. In fact, in the first part of 2023, Cupra’s sales were up 75% year-on-year. That kind of buzz about a brand is enough to get any C-Suite executive salivating.

And speaking of buzz…

At the heart of this decision is VW Group’s all-in policy on electrification.

SEAT CEO Wayne Griffiths put it like this:

We cannot electrify both brands at once. SEAT and Cupra complement each other during the transition phase.

Putting that together with VW’s stated priorities tells us that SEAT effectively won’t be around after the electric transition. And VW Group wants to make the transition sooner rather than later.

What’s in a name?

The massively popular SEAT Leon. Image by 5033181 from Pixabay

Now obviously, this all falls into the category of there’s way bigger stuff to get worked up about. VW Group will still produce cars in Spain. Their styling of the VW Group’s platform will continue to look distinct from Audi, VW and Skoda. And the existing range of SEATs will be produced for some time.

Still, when SEATs start disappearing from our roads, it will be the demise of a brand with a long and rich history. SEAT’s been around since 1950, employing thousands of workers and selling 16 million cars. The distinctive S logo is as recognisable as Superman’s emblem. It’s a bit of a shame when a much-loved brand disappears, don’t you think? We’re still getting over Marathon being rebranded as Snickers.*

*No one aged under 35 will understand this reference.

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