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Seat boss: We won’t build an MX-5 rival, or an electric car
TG chats hot hatches, an MX-5 rival and future tech with Seat president Jürgen Stackmann
Seat president Jürgen Stackmann likes motivational posters. He has slogans like ‘Do or Die’ and ‘What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid?’ hung on his office wall.
“Personally, I would love to [build a sports car],” Stackmann tells us. “Everyone applauds you at motor shows… then they don’t sell.“Sports cars are great for the first year, but cars have to sell over a seven-year life cycle. Mazda is the only one [in that market] with the MX-5, isn’t it? It’s impressive they have made it work.”
He also points out Toyota gained huge praise and publicity for building the rear-drive GT86, but European sales have failed to match the hype.
Stackmann reasons that the Leon Cupra “is already our sports car”. It’s actually a hot hatch, Jürgen, but we’ll allow you some poetic licence since the Cupra and its estate twin are cracking fast cars. Any scope for a faster one, like the old Leon Cupra R?
“We could [add more power] but we cannot use it because we have front-wheel drive”, says Stackmann ruefully, perhaps dreaming of the sales the dearer, AWD Golf R racks up. “And a more powerful car is more expensive, and the young guys who want it cannot afford it.”
And there’s a similar lack of appetite for cars at the opposite end of the CO2-emitting spectrum. Seat is one of the best-positioned brands in the world to create a plug-in hybrid or electric car, but doesn’t make either.
Its best-selling models sit on the VW Group’s MQB platform, which was designed from the ground up to support not just petrol and diesel powerplants, but compressed gas, battery, and hybrid power. The VW Golf and Audi A3 already do just that. But a Leon EV? Not on your nelly.
“I have absolutely zero demand for a fully electric car for my customers,” states Stackmann firmly. “We think we can get to 2020 without adding fully electric propulsion systems. In 2020 and beyond, [we will look at EVs], because that is what the European Union wants us to do. In the future, it is a question of when, not if. Plug-in hybrids look like a more sensible future, because they give you more range.”
Stackmann, who’s been at the helm of Seat since May 2013 and calls it “the best job in the car industry” several times in our chat, admits Seat’s had a bit of a branding problem to overcome.
“People say, ‘What does Seat stand for? If you’re [targeting] young people, why make the Toledo? If you are sporty, why do you make the Alhambra?’” he says. “But we’re not just for the young, we’re for the young at heart.”
Seat’s headline act at Frankfurt is the jacked-up Leon Cross Sport which mixes Cupra power with AWD and raised ride height. Expect to see it on sale with detuned poke and five doors within months, we’re told.
So with a healthy future of SUVs planned, and a big return on investment imperative, why is Stackmann so adamant the Spanish brand won’t go hunting cash-cow sales in China?
“We are still thinking [about the business case]. China is a giant, rapidly changing market. The growth has wild dimensions – half the size of the entire German car market is added every year. But now it is slowing down, the local brands are [stronger] with more SUVs.
“My worry is that I would have to double my structure – plants, brand, employees – and the big fear is that the big opportunity also presents a big risk, if we lose focus. We will go to China if we are strong enough…”