SEAT: A Tale of a Spanish Matador!

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Today, the Spanish carmaker SEAT is a sustainable, innovative and technologically advanced company with a successful history. For seven decades, SEAT has been making a remarkable history with the production of a total of 75 different models that have various variants and have been produced for several generations now.

The brand may be famous now for being a part of the Volkswagen Group; however, things didn’t start out this way! The story of SEAT began in 1940 when it was originally founded as SIAT (Sociedad Ibérica de Automóviles de Turismo). At that time, SEAT’s primary objective was to “put Spain on wheels”.

Working hard and smart to answer the market needs, SEAT managed to build a reputable name in the automotive market, quickly becoming the main and favourite car manufacturer of many fans. But with such a rich history comes some bumps on the road, which the brand overcame smoothly so far!

From manufacturing Fiat models under licence to producing its own models independently and then under the Volkswagen umbrella, the brand’s history is littered with highly charismatic models that have dazzled Spanish society and the whole world. So, what is the history of the prestigious brand anyway? Let’s find out!

SEAT Early Days!

The first real steps for SEAT came in the 1950s when the post-war aftermath started to fade and finally gave way to a new phase of industrial and economic development. The previous shortcomings and commercial isolation that the country was living in also resulted in a total absence of cars to answer the progressive demand for cars in Spanish society.

May That’s how on 9 May 1950, SEAT was established as a result of a partnership between the Spanish state-owned Instituto Nacional de Industria (INI), Spanish private banks, and FIAT.

In those years, the lack of in-house technology meant that the new company had to start under the auspices of Fiat, an Italian brand that determined the first steps of the newly born SEAT.

The First Cars to Hit the Road!

Under a licensing agreement with Fiat, the first car model ever introduced by this legendary brand was the SEAT 1400, also known as the copy of the FIAT 1400, which was unveiled in the brand’s factory in Barcelona‘s Zona Franca district.

This elegant model was a 4.3-metre-long saloon. It was spacious, fully equipped and had a 1,395-cubic-centimetre engine that offered 44 horsepower and could reach 120 kilometres per hour. The SEAT 1400 was notable mainly for being one of the first cars in Europe to use a self-supporting body instead of a separate chassis with a bolted body.

Perhaps the only trouble with that model was its high price at the time, which was not affordable for the average Spanish consumer, but SEAT had a fix in mind for this issue; the SEAT 600!

This model was everything that the Spanish car market needed at that time, and even more! The vehicle became the symbol of car driving in Spain; it offered mobility and freedom to millions of people. While the SEAT 1400 was a car reserved for the upper middle class, the SEAT 600 was aimed at the Spanish middle class with more affordable prices.
At 3.22 metres long and weighing 590 kilograms, the SEAT 600 had a boot under the front bonnet and a longitudinal rear engine, with an initial displacement of 633 cubic centimetres and an initial power output of 18 horsepower, which went up to 767 cubic centimetres and 28 horsepower in the 600 L version.

During its 17 years of production, the SEAT 600 had different versions (N, D, E, L and L Special), and in 1964 the arrival of the SEAT 800, the four-door version of the 600, was a highlight.

It was a smooth ride for SEAT from hereafter, and the brand added other new models to its range. These models include the popular 1500 saloon, the 850 (successor to the 600), and the 124. Thanks to those models, the brand’s exports and the production of cars experienced a significant surge, leading the company to become the world’s eighth-largest car manufacturer in the 1970s.

In the early 1980s, the brand and Fiat entered troubled water that led to the complete interruption of their partnership. However, it didn’t take SEAT long for a new partner to come along, and in 1982, the brand signed an agreement with Volkswagen, which is still going strong today. This historic event marked the beginning of a new defining era for the brand.

By the mid-1980s, the brand also established a new subsidiary called SEAT Sport, which later on became known as Cupra Racing and served as an independent entity.

Dear World, Meet the Famous Ibiza!

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When anyone mentions the name SEAT, perhaps the first image that comes to mind is that of the Ibiza; after all, it is one of the brand’s most-selling cars ever!

It was in 1984 that the first generation of the SEAT Ibiza was first introduced to the world at the Paris Motor Show. Over time, this successful model became an icon in the company’s history, elevating the brand’s international fame to a whole new level it has never experienced before!

The Ibiza is undoubtedly a legend for the brand, having produced more than 5.4 million units and being the model that has been on sale for the longest time, with a total of five generations to date.

Born out of the imagination of one of the most renowned car designers ever, Giorgetto Giugiaro, the Seat Ibiza stood out from the start for its aesthetics and functionality. This model offered a great sense of light thanks to its large glass area and spaciousness and roominess worthy of higher segments.

Mechanically, the brand turned to Porsche for the engineering of the petrol engines of the car, as the System Porsche engines had power outputs ranging from 63 to 110 hp, which were also joined by a 55-hp diesel.

In 1991, near the end of this generation’s life cycle, SEAT launched the New Style version, which replaced the Ibiza’s characteristic horizontal louvred grille with a more modern one-piece grille. This version also featured a number of interior improvements, such as the addition of air conditioning as standard.

Finally, in 1992, the Sport Line version appeared, associated with the 1700 engine with 105 and 110 horsepower.

Toledo: The First SEAT car with a Volkswagen Twist!

In 1991 came the first generation of the SEAT Toledo, which was the first model that the brand developed within the Volkswagen Group after acquiring 75% of the Spanish company’s shares in 1986 and taking control of 99.9% from 1990 onwards.

The three-volume design with a large tailgate of the first-generation SEAT Toledo was designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro and remained on sale until 1998. Toledo was a critical success for SEAT, and it marked the beginning of a new phase, during which the Spanish brand continued to grow and also gained well-deserved international prestige for its manufacturing quality and reliability.

The engines for this model were sourced from Volkswagen and offered petrol power ratings from 75 to 150 hp, while diesel engines were available in both naturally aspirated and direct injection TDI versions up to 110 hp.

The success of the Toledo also paved the way for future collaborations between SEAT and Volkswagen, including the production of popular models like the SEAT Leon and the SEAT Ateca SUV.

In 1998, the company came out with the beloved Toledo Cupra, the name of the car was actually inspired by the Spanish term for “cup racing”, which aimed to reflect the car’s racing heritage and performance-oriented design. Since its release, the car has become one of SEAT’s most popular and successful models.

New Millennial… New Legendary Models!

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In the early years of the new millennial, SEAT made a couple of smart moves adding some new models to its line-up. Thanks to this strategic thinking, the brand was able to hold its ground in the automotive industry.

In 1999, the brand released its other best-selling model Leon. The model was SEAT’s first-ever car to feature all-wheel drive. The Leon’s sporty design and excellent handling made it quite popular among drivers, and the all-wheel-drive system provided improved traction and stability, making it the perfect option for driving in various weather conditions.

The Leon had all the right ingredients to be a successful car, its design, dynamism, performance, efficiency, equipment and habitability; these factors helped the first generation of the car to be a great sales success.

The Leon model was the most powerful SEAT to date with 180 horsepower, a figure that was surpassed by the 225 horsepower of the Leon Cupra R with the 1.8T 20VT engine. It was also the first production from SEAT with four-wheel drive and a six-speed gearbox.

The SEAT Leon is available with a wide range of engines. It has petrol, diesel, mild-hybrid / micro-hybrid, plug-in hybrid / PHEV and CNG versions.

Secondly, the brand introduced a new engine technology in 2002 that offered improved fuel efficiency. The technology was called the “Pumpe-Düse” system and debuted in the Ibiza model.

This system used a high-pressure fuel injection system, allowing for more efficient combustion and reducing fuel consumption. Consumers welcomed this technology, and it helped the brand establish itself as a leader in fuel-efficient vehicles.

SUVs, Here Comes SEAT!

In 2016, the brand made its contribution to the SUV world with the model Ateca. Ateca has been a sales success since its release, and it actually received numerous awards, including the “Best Car of the Year 2017” award in Spain.

SEAT’s first SUV was everything drivers would expect from such a great carmaker and much more; it was a dynamic, practical and versatile vehicle with a superb design and a unique style.
The SEAT Ateca featured a whole package of driving assistance systems and cutting-edge technologies that raised safety and comfort to the highest level, making this model one of the most innovative SUVs in its segment.

The SEAT Ateca is 4.38 metres long, 1.84 metres wide and 1.61 metres high. It has enough interior space to seat five passengers. The Ateca has a boot capacity of 510 litres, which can be increased to 1,600 litres if the second row of seats of the SUV is folded down.

In terms of powertrains, the SEAT Ateca is available with two petrol and one diesel engine. The diesel engine develops 150 hp in a 2.0-litre block, while the petrol variants are a 110 hp 1.0-litre and a 150 hp 1.5-litre. All units come with a six-speed manual transmission as standard but can be paired with a seven-speed DSG automatic gearbox.

SEAT Ventures into the Electric Vehicles World

In response to the growing interest in electric vehicles, SEAT introduced the SEAT Mii Electric, an all-electric variant of the Mii, in 2001. With its electric motor and lithium-ion battery pack, the Mii Electric offers zero-emission driving, addressing environmental concerns and providing an eco-friendly mobility solution.

The development of the Mii model aligned with the market’s need for fuel efficiency. Rising fuel prices and environmental consciousness have made fuel efficiency a key factor for many car buyers.

The Mii was designed with a strong emphasis on efficiency, featuring economical petrol engines that deliver good fuel economy. This focus on efficiency helped reduce the cost of ownership while minimising the vehicle’s environmental impact.

By producing the Mii model and introducing the Mii Electric variant, SEAT aimed to provide customers with practical, efficient, and environmentally friendly options for urban mobility.

 The brand’s electric models reflect its commitment to meeting the evolving needs of car buyers who prioritise compact size, fuel efficiency, and eco-consciousness.

SEAT: The Present Day & the Future!

In 2018, the Martorell-based company decided to launch Cupra as an independent brand. Cupra (an acronym for Cup Racing) was, until then, the label for the sportiest version of SEAT models. The decision caused some surprise but has now been confirmed as a bold move that is being imitated by other major European manufacturers.

The new models of Cupra, initially based on SEAT models such as the Leon and Ateca, were launched in 2020. In just three years, the results have proved that the move of separation was certainly the right one. Today, the company of Cupra, which has returned to profit, makes far fewer cars and much more money.

However, since this separation from Cupra, SEAT was not exactly having the best time in its history. With one crisis after the other, we can say that recent years have not been kind to the brand. The situation kept on getting worse, and the rumours kept on getting more concerning, with many of them claiming that the brand won’t even make it to the next decade!

In 2022, these rumours were addressed by Volkswagen CEO Thomas Schäfer, stating that there is still hope for the brand and that it is safe for the time being, to say the least, until 2029 or 2030. He added that the management is actually still figuring out the best future plan for the brand.

However, in 2023, the unsettling news started to circulate again, saying that the brand would stop making cars by 2030 as a result of repositioning within the Volkswagen Group. However, nothing has been confirmed yet, and the arrival of Oliver Blume (who worked at Seat years ago) as president of the Volkswagen group, replacing Herbert Diess, may have opened the door to a new dimension for the Spanish brand.

Hopefully, a new plan for the future of the brand will be announced, and we won’t be witnessing the end of the era of the great SEAT!

For over 70 years, SEAT has drawn a path filled with emblematic models that were milestones in their time. SEAT has become one of the brands most recognised by Spanish drivers. In fact, it has become part of the very DNA of the country. For seven decades, SEAT models represented a wide range of proposals, ranging from utility or compact cars to 4X4 SUVs making dream cars for all types of drivers!

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