Friday 11 June 2010

2012 León essential to SEAT's future

Seat will use its next-generation Leon to launch its first hybrid and electric cars from 2012 as part of its new 5 year plan, even though there are still no plans for the firm to enter into new market segments.

The Spanish manufacturer is currently testing a plug-in hybrid version of the Leon, known as Twin Drive, and this is expected to be part of the next Leon range that’s planned to arrive in late 2012.

An all-electric version of the Leon is also likely after Volkswagen announced plans to build an all-electric version of the Golf (the car on which the Leon is based) from 2013. The Golf blue-e-motion drivetrain is likely to come from the IBE concept from Geneva, although there are no plans to put the IBE itself into production.

The standard Leon range itself will be the first Seat to adopt many of the new design features of the IBE concept. Both 3 & 5dr hatchback variants will be offered, while an estate version is also likely given Seat’s desire to boost capacity at its Martorell plant.

Seat, along with Skoda, has already confirmed it will launch its own variant of VW’s Up! city-car. This is also penned in for a 2012 launch; the car is still at the design stage of its development. As with VW’s Up, Seat’s version will almost certainly be offered with an all-electric drivetrain.

The 5 year plan to turn around the fortunes of VW’s Spanish subsidiary is soon to be revealed by new CEO James Muir, who joined Seat from Mazda last September. Using the spare capacity of Martorell is key to these plans; Muir wants the plant to work at more than 90% of its capacity, up from the 60% of today.

However, these plans won’t include the firm entering new market segments. Seat’s plans to launch its Tribu compact SUV are “on ice”, according to one insider, with the firm not keen on entering a new sector due to the recession.

There are still no plans for a Seat sports car either. Such a model would allow Seat to better project its image as VW’s sporty subsidiary, but the low demand for a Seat sports car and the lack of popularity for the segment in its Spanish home market has made such a model in the future unlikely.

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