SEAT has taken on 700 staff to build the Audi Q3

SEAT has taken on 700 staff to build the Audi Q3

With the imminent arrival of the Q3 crossover, Audi has taken another step on its chosen path of becoming far and away the world's largest premium vehicle brand. This week the firm commences pre-production of its rival for the BMW X1 and the five-door Range Rover Evoque at SEAT's Martorell plant near Barcelona.

The Q3 shares its wheelbase dimension, platform and most of its powertrains with the existing Wolfsburg- and Kaluga-built Volkswagen Tiguan (China's Tiguan is a long wheelbase model unique to that market). The PQ35 platform mandates transversally-mounted engines and front- or all-wheel drive.

For SEAT, the Q3 throws Martorell a lifeline until such time as the troubled facility and the Spanish new vehicle market each return to happier days. The division, which continues to sustain losses, is now expected to return to profitability around 2013.

The anticipated black ink will be aided not only by the extra volumes to be generated at Martorell by the Q3, but also by the forthcoming all-new three-door, five-door and wagon versions of the third generation León. That model series is expected to enter production in the fourth quarter of 2012, and should be preceded by a new Toledo.

A more imminent new SEAT, the replacement for the long-discontinued Arosa city car, is due to be built at VW Group's Bratislava plant in Slovakia from late 2011 alongside the replacement for the VW Lupo and a small Skoda. Of SEAT's oft-rumoured Q3 and Tiguan derivative, all seems to have gone quiet. For now. The idea behind the Tribu concept at the 2007 Frankfurt motor show was followed up at the Geneva show three months ago by the IBX design study, so a Q3-based SEAT crossover may yet reach production. Martorell would be the logical place to build it but it may well be some 12-24 months away.

As for the Q3 itself, which had its global premiere at the Shanghai motor show in April 2011, it is shorter and wider but taller than its BMW rival. The launch engines for Europe will be 2.0-litre petrols and diesels available with various power outputs. According to Audi, SEAT's sole manufacturing plant has installed capacity for 100,000 units of the Q5. Volkswagen Group is yet to reveal any possible plans for additional Q5 assembly at its ever-expanding Kaluga complex in Russia.

Due possibly to the volatility of the currencies' relationship to one another and the ongoing weakness of the dollar, Audi of America has ruled out imports of the Q3. China should be a different, if slightly more complicated story. All Audi production in the country is part of the FAW Volkswagen joint venture, while the Q3's Tiguan twin is built by the rival Shanghai Volkswagen JV. For that reason, Audi may decide to wait until FAW VW's new 300,000-unit Foshan plant is completed in 2013 before commencing Q3 build in China.

The Foshan factory, which will not only be the JV's first manufacturing facility in Guangdong province but also its first in the south of the country, is being erected in the Nanhai district of the city. For now, Audi is saying only that it will build the Q3 in China but exact details of where and when are yet to be revealed.

Author: Glenn Brooks