Seat launched its redesigned Alhambra MPV/minivan - its version of parent VWs Sharan - in Paris

Seat launched its redesigned Alhambra MPV/minivan - its version of parent VW's Sharan - in Paris

The Seat name may have been around in the UK for more than 20 years but there's still job to do in terms of brand awareness.

"We are doing OK in terms of sales," said local managing director Peter Whinney at the Paris show. "Last year we had a record market share of 1.5% and this year we are running ahead at 6% but the challenge is to be discovered as a brand.

"We are better known for our actual models but, in terms of awareness of the Seat brand, there is still a long way to go."

He's working on it. Marketing communications spend is up 70% this year as the company pushes its sponsorship of the Europa League, the singer Shakira and music festivals such as Reading and Leeds.

It's a strategy very much aimed at younger buyers. "Once people get us on their radar, they like what they see," added Whinney. "Awareness is high but not yet at the level we want.

"But we do have probably the youngest model range in Europe, dynamic products, good residual values and low running costs so we are pretty well placed."

Whinney expects to sell 32,000 cars in the UK this year, maintaining that 1.6% share in a total market of around 2m vehicles.

"There are a lot of factors to take into account. The scrappage scheme has run out which is slowing sales but, with VAT set to rise in January, we are expecting a market blip towards the end of the year."

Seat plans to beat the VAT man [the sales tax is rising from 17.5% to 20%] with a campaign starting tomorrow, paying the VAT, or reducing prices by 17.5%, for the final quarter.

Whinney said there had been a very good reaction to the sporty IBe electric concept car, a super compact sports model, on display here in Paris.

"It shows that environmentally-conscious people can still have fun to drive cars. Young people in particular are very socially responsible, but they still want to have fun."

In Spain Seat is working with the national and Barcelona governments to develop a plug-in hybrid model which goes on trial on home turf in 2012. Whinney added that until then the company had class-leading conventional engines.

"We have an Ibiza model with emissions of just 92g/km, the Leon with 99g/km while the [just redesigned] Alhambra MPV is best in class with 143g/km.

On the dealer front, Seat UK has now filled all its major weak spots in London, Manchester and Liverpool as well as large areas in Scotland.

"We are now increasingly on the radar with big dealer groups who are taking a lot more interest in the brand."

Seat's 123 UK dealers are currently undergoing a "modest" makeover in terms of showroom paintwork, graphics and furniture. Whinney said the roll-out was now three quarters of the way through and should be completed by the end of the year.

"It is totally modular. We have not asked them to invest to invest thousands of pounds - it's a modest makeover."

Auto market intelligence
from just-auto

• Auto component fitment forecasts
• OEM & tier 1 profiles & factory finder
• Analysis of 30+ auto technologies & more