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Seat happy to retain low-cost brand reputation

Date: 19 April 2013   |   Author: Jack Carfrae

Seat is eschewing the now common practice of targeting upmarket customers with a premium image and is instead keen to hang onto its status as budget car company.

Product manager James Buckell claimed that the company's status as a low-cost brand within the Volkswagen Group gave it the potential to pick up corporate business.

"[The Leon - pictured - has] good RVs. Perhaps not as good as the A3 and the Golf, but we're a lot cheaper than that, which balances things out.

"People will buy a VW or an Audi off paper. We don't have that following. We convert customers when they test-drive the car. I think that's where people come to us - from a Golf thinking 'I can't afford that' and 'I want something different'."

He maintained that this was one of the reasons that Seat scored its large-scale deal to supply Leon Ecomotives to British Gas: "At the time the Leon Ecomotive was the cleanest thing out there.

"There's a good chance we'll be supplying new Leons as part of the existing contract as replacement cars.

"It's good exposure for them to choose a brand that's not seen as an expensive car at a time when energy prices are being hiked."

The firm has marketed the new Leon heavily at the fleet community, as Buckell explained: "We've had 20 left-hand drive cars over since November and the fleet team has been out previewing the car with fleet and leasing organisations. We made a special effort to do this back in quarter four [of 2012]."

The previous-generation Leon's rear door handles were flushed into the rear window, which gave the car the appearance of a three-door hatchback, when it in fact had two fully functional rear doors. Buckell said this had actually created confusion and counted against it.

"The [new] five-door doesn't have hidden door handles any more. This has been a criticism. We've lost customers because they've looked at it and gone, 'I don't want a three-door'. This is an unapologetic, practical five-door, hopefully without compromising the car. That's where the SC [the three-door Leon] comes in for those who don't want a five-door."

He also hinted that the lowest-emitting Ecomotive model would be roughly as low as the Golf Bluemotion when it arrives later in the year.

"Saying sub-99g/km probably under sells the Ecomotive. At Paris [motor show], Volkswagen launched the Golf mk7 and they stated 85g/km for the Bluemotion.

"Our timetable for getting that engine is a bit further away. I'm pretty certain that whatever they get, we'll get. There may be a couple of grammes difference."