Seat, Volkswagen’s Spanish arm, will launch in China in 2012 with 15 dealers, company president James Muir said, hours after returning from finalising the deal which he sees as very much a ‘toe-in-the-water’ exercise.
“We’ll be concentrating on southern China because we think that’s where the younger buyers are,” he said.
He admits he was surprised by how much interest there has been in the brand.
“We have had approaches from more than 40 potential partners including two in Beijing but I want to take the launch slowly.”
Seat went to April’s Shanghai show to announce its intention to enter the Chinese market, a task made easier with the VW Group’s strong presence in the country. Muir is targeting around 5,000 annual sales.
Selling in China is an important part of rebalancing the brand’s footprint. Sales are up this year in key markets like the UK, Germany, France and Italy and are beginning to grow in eastern Europe.
With the collapse of Spanish market – down by 50% on pre-2008 levels to fewer than 900,000 annual sales this year – this is increasingly important. Seat has recaptured market leadership at home after more than 30 years but Spain’s financial woes give added impetus to finding new markets.
Speaking at the launch of the Mii, Seat’s version of the VW Up and Skoda Citigo, Muir said that the company was about to enter an unprecedented model launch period – “a consistent and long-term brand offensive”, as he described it.
The message will be ‘emotional technology’ as a way of describing the melding of Spanish style and emotion with German precision and engineering as Muir sets about “a complete transformation of the Seat brand”.
Apart from the Mii, there is a heavily revised Ibiza which will make its debut at next spring’s Geneva motor show; within the following 12 months, redesigned Leon and Toledo model lines arrive plus five-door Mii variants.
Muir also said Seat would have its own SUV, a revelation that took his PR team by surprise. The brand showed off an SUV concept at the last Geneva show.
He makes no secret of the fact that there are some models in the current range that should never have seen a drawing board, let alone a showroom. As one Seat insider noted, it’s hardly surprising that the design team is working flat out on replacements.