Remember the Chrysler Grand Voyager, Citroen C8, Kia Sedona and Toyota Previa? All large people-carriers/MPVs/minivans, launched as the answer to a family’s prayers but now extinct in Europe, probably never to be replaced. They are not alone.
Even the Renault Espace, the car which introduced the genre to the European market, is no longer universally available with the UK being the most prominent country to have turned its back on the French car. Retail customers, it seems, just don’t find them sexy. SUVs and crossovers have taken their place.
The market is 50% fleet across Europe, but as much as 70% fleet in the UK, with large numbers of sales going to the minicab/airport taxi sectors.
Yet there is still worthwhile business to be had for those who have stayed the course, most notably Ford (S-Max and Galaxy), Volkswagen (Sharan) and Seat (Alhambra). And with the imminent arrival of a significantly updated Sharan, first seen at the Barcelona Show in May 2015, it means that all four of those cars has been replaced or refurbished in a matter of months.
On the face of it, the Alhambra hardly fits the Seat image which, judging from the advertising, is club racing meets Balearic beach parties. Yet Seat has sold more than 330,000 since the model was introduced in 1996. The leading market is Germany, but there are significant contributions to the sales tally from all the major car-buying countries of western Europe.
“It has helped us that there are no longer so many competitors in the market,” CEO Jürgen Stackmann told just-auto, “but people like the Alhambra because it does everything they want. Sales were up by 40% in the first half of this year and by 8.2% for the brand. The Leon has been the key to the change in the company: we are moving away from being a brand in the south selling small cars, and we have our first SUV to come in nine months.”
Seat is able to afford the Sharan in its line-up on sales of around 25,000 a year (2014: 23,100) because it shares its powertrains and platform with the bigger-selling VW Sharan. That platform is currently the PQ structure but, by the time of the next Alhambra/Sharan, probably in 2017-18, both will be based on the VW Group’s highly versatile MQB architecture.
The latest Alhambra update introduces new EU6 engines – two litre TDI units delivering 115, 150 or 184hp and 1.4-litre/150hp and two-litre/220hp TSI petrol units – which are up to 10% more fuel efficient and cleaner. There is also increased connectivity to smartphones via MirrorLink, additional driver assistance systems, more convenience features and subtle tweaks to the styling and interior.