Can SEAT top 500,000 sales in 2018 with new Ibiza?

By Glenn Brooks | 11 January 2018

Ibiza pricing starts at £13,130 and rises to £19,300 before a deduction of up to £2,500 for trading in an older diesel vehicle

Ibiza pricing starts at £13,130 and rises to £19,300 before a deduction of up to £2,500 for trading in an older diesel vehicle

View 2 related images

Volkswagen recently said that it had produced 14 million Polos since the first model was introduced in 1975. SEAT, an infinitely smaller company, introduced its similarly sized Ibiza in 1984. As it ramps up production of the fifth generation model, the total built at Martorell has just reached 5.6 million. The new car is more than good enough to push that total above 6 million within four years, maybe even three. 

The Ibiza was the first vehicle for the Modular Quer Baukasten (MQB) A0 platform.

The Ibiza 5 and Polo 6 have strong links. The SEAT was the first vehicle for the Volkswagen Group's Modular Quer Baukasten (MQB) A0 platform, as noted here. The Škoda Fabia also uses a B segment version of MQB but so as to keep costs down, that platform is older and incorporates elements of the previous Fabia.

The fifth generation Ibiza was revealed at an event in Spain on 31 January 2017, five weeks ahead of its motor show debut in Geneva. Due to low demand, the ST was dropped from the previous model line-up in 2016, so there won't be a new estate. Nor is there a three-door.

Production on Line 1 at Martorell commenced in May 2017 and the Spanish plant immediately began supplying kits to a new Volkswagen Group plant in Algeria. This factory began SKD assembly of the Ibiza in July.

The car was gradually introduced across global markets throughout the second half of last year, and is still being added to some countries' model line-ups. Mexico is one of the latest, where the new-shape Ibiza is fresh for the 2018 model year.

The brand lifted its UK sales by 18 per cent against an overall fall of six percent.

Britain is a strong market for SEAT and last year was a great one. The brand lifted its sales by 18 per cent against an overall fall of six percent. In December alone, deliveries rose by 15 per cent, compared to a drop of 14 per cent for all brands. The Leon is a big reason but so too is the Ibiza, while the addition of the Ateca has also done wonders for SEAT.

The strong performance in Britain follows across other markets in this region, the brand rising multiple places in Spain to end 2017 in second position behind Renault. Which means it also pushed Volkswagen down into third. The numbers were 56,130 cars in the UK and 95,100 in the home market.

Germany remains SEAT's number one market, with 102,100 cars delivered. Although registrations rose by 16 per cent, France remains a weak spot, with deliveries numbering 24,200 units. Even with the strong percentage rise, France couldn't beat a flat result in Mexico (24,700, +0.7 per cent) while in Italy, the brand only just pushed through the 18,000 level, which stayed ahead of a strong Austria (17,500, + 19 per cent).

Even if the UK descends into a deep downturn, 500,000 sales worldwide should still be possible.

Worldwide, the total was a nicely profitable 468,400 or so cars and SUVs delivered, the highest since 2001. With the Arona now in production and the Alboran, Aranda, Avila or Tarraco (the name will be one of these four) due to be in series production from October, SEAT should easily cross the half-million mark this year. Even if the UK descends into a deep downturn, 500,000 sales worldwide should still be possible.

Margins from the B segment Arona, Golf-sized Ateca and Discovery Sport class third SUV will surely make up a combined tasty return on investment for the Volkswagen Group. Which, crucially, should mean additional treats such as more powerful engines, EVs, new markets and entry to yet more new-to-SEAT vehicle classes.

If the crossovers and SUVs are the icing on the cake and a major new revenue stream, SEAT's core models are not being forgotten about if the excellence of the Ibiza is the standard by which this can be judged. The low-spec test vehicle I drove for a week had a lot of dark plastics, wind-up back windows, unsexy alloy wheels and a thin-rimmed steering wheel. None of this mattered. In fact, it lent the Ibiza an air of the way cars used to be in this class. Not so much basic and frills-free as light-feeling, agile and comfortable. Less lard, more muscle.

There was nothing in the press test car which seemed like a non-essential yet there was no look or feel of this being a Dacia. By that I mean not quite state of the art technology contained in a sensible car full of trim pieces which had a familiar, i.e. decades old, feel.

To drive, the Ibiza really does feel different to a Polo.

Even when backing out of the garage, the first turn of the wheel telegraphs feel instantly to the driver's palms. The accuracy is there and the delight of knowing that narrow-ish tyres offer good grip with sharp responses reminds you of the best French cars of the 1990s. It really does feel different to a Polo too.

Having recently driven the new VW, the Ibiza is a different sort of car, it seems to me. SEAT is supposed to be the brand for keen drivers and yet the Polo has the more attuned dynamics. Which isn't to say that the Ibiza is floppy and sloppy - far from it. The ride is softer, at least it was in the cheaper spec car I borrowed from SEAT and drove to and from the Polo media launch. The 15" wheels would have been a factor too.

The engine options are similar to those in the new VW, although there is a 75PS 1.0-litre petrol, which the Polo lacks: its base engine has only 65PS. Although SEAT doesn't offer the 200PS turbo which will power the Polo GTI and GTI+, the Ibiza's other powertrains are the same: 95PS and 115PS 1.0-litre petrols and a 1.6-litre four-cylinder with 80PS or 95PS. It's a pity the less powerful engines only come with a five-speed gearbox, as motorway economy would be even better with an extra ratio.

An electric Ibiza may be added to the line-up in 2020.

How does the Ibiza rate against its rivals, overall? It's less expensive than the new Polo, and comes well equipped too. The Fabia is strong on standard equipment and the Skoda dealer network is always well rated, which is a big factor that many manufacturers overlook.

I can certainly see a niche for the Ibiza, especially now that the brand is gaining an image of its own as a maker of distinctive looking vehicles for singles and young families.

Other than the internal competition, buyers in the B segment are truly spoilt for choice, as there are so many well engineered cars to ponder. From the Clio, Mazda2, i20, Fiesta, 208, Corsa, Rio, C3, A1, Swift, Yaris, newly updated Jazz, the rarely seen Micra, or to left-field options such as the BMW i3, it's no wonder that many OEMs struggle to make money out of these sized cars. No wonder Fiat gave up on the idea of trying to do so.

Will there be an electrified Ibiza?

SEAT doesn't (yet) do hybrids or plug-in hybrids. Instead, the company is making plans to jump to battery-electric models in a few years' time. An electric Ibiza may be added to the line-up in 2020. That will also be when the rest of the range will be due for a mid-life refresh.