SEAT, S.A. (English pronunciation: [ˈsɛːat], "say-at"; Spanish pronunciation: [seˈat]) is a Spanish automobile manufacturer founded in 1950 by the Instituto Nacional de Industria (INI), with Fiat assistance, and now a wholly owned subsidiary of the German Volkswagen Group (Volkswagen Aktiengesellschaft) (VWAG). Its headquarters are at Martorell near Barcelona, Spain, and is legally inscribed in the official Mercantile Register of Barcelona, book 23662, folio 1, sheet B-56-855.
SEAT is an acronym for Sociedad Española de Automóviles de Turismo, which roughly translates into English as Spanish Saloon Car Company.
Initially, SEAT manufactured rebadged Fiat models which differed very little visually from the products of the Italian parent. The SEAT Panda (later restyled as SEAT Marbella) for example was based on the Fiat Panda. The SEAT 600, based on Fiat 600, was the first car for many Spanish families, and became a symbol of the Spanish Miracle.
The first car under the new SEAT logo without Fiat involvement appeared in 1982, and was called the SEAT Ronda. This was a restyled Fiat Ritmo, and sparked a lawsuit from Fiat against SEAT, as the former claimed the car was still too similar to the Ritmo. The then president of SEAT, Juan Miguel Antoñanzas, showed a Ronda to the press with all the parts different from the Fiat Ritmo painted in bright yellow, to highlight the differences. This ended the dispute. Rumour at the time had it that Fiat was angry because the Ronda restyling was in fact too close to their own planned restyling for the Fiat Ritmo, which they had to scrap.
After the withdrawal of Fiat in 1981, the Volkswagen Group subsidiary Audi AG signed a cooperation agreement with SEAT, becoming the major shareholder in 1986, and 100% owner of the company in 1990. During the mid 2000s, the ownership of the SEAT company was realigned, with Audi AG transferring ownership of SEAT to the top-tier holding company Volkswagen Group.
SEAT has its manufacturing facilities in Martorell, an industrial town close to Barcelona. The plant was opened by King Juan Carlos of Spain in 1993, and replaced SEAT's original assembly plant by the coast in Barcelona's freeport zone. The development facilities are some of the newest in the Volkswagen Group. For example, the development and design of the Audi Q7 took place there.
SEAT, instead of being a mere part of Volkswagen Group, styles its own designs. Every year, its improvements make its cars a new standard for the European automobile industry, in fact, the SEAT León has been recently recognized by the German press as the most competitive model of the year, wining the award against other cars like Volkswagen Golf Mk5, Škoda Octavia and Audi A4.
Presence in different markets
The company styles its own models of cars in accordance with the development policies of the Volkswagen Group. Some of its cars have been sold outside Europe, badged as Volkswagens, such as the SEAT Ibiza hatchback, known in South Africa as the Volkswagen Polo Playa, the SEAT Inca panel van as the Volkswagen Caddy, or the SEAT Córdoba also known as the Volkswagen Polo Classic.
Rumours of a SEAT model being sold as a Volkswagen in Canada and the United States to supplement the Volkswagen's brand lineup there have occasionally circulated, but have always been unsubstantiated, and ultimately proven to be false. SEAT markets 6 models in Mexico, and has dealer presence in 27 Mexican states.
SEAT's presence in international markets (outside of Europe) has yet to be realised, with the failed plan to launch SEAT in Canada in 1994, and with the withdrawing of SEAT from the Australian market after only selling its range from 1995-1999. SEAT is also positioned to launch in the United States sometime after 2008, although this has yet to be verified as a certainty. SEAT currently continues to expand to international markets under the Volkswagen Group, particularly in the Middle East and Asia. They have already achieved some success in Thailand and Israel.
SEAT in motorsport
Since the Volkswagen Group (VWAG) takeover in 1990, SEAT has been increasing its presence in the motorsport world. This was mainly down to VWAG's plan on focusing the SEAT brand as 'sporty', to appeal to the younger generation of drivers.
SEAT's first serious attempt at a World Rally Championship (WRC) title was burdened on the small SEAT Ibiza, a 1.6L normally aspirated front-wheel drive car with its roots in the Volkswagen Polo. The Ibiza allowed the company to start building its rallying experience, and was officially engaged in some European national championships. The years went by and little success followed until a 2L version of the Ibiza was homologated as a kit-car, and extra wide tracks, larger wheels, brakes, etc, were fitted to it as the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) kit-car regulations allow. With these attributes, the car succeeded three times the 2L World Champion ('96, '97, '98), proving its maker had accumulated enough experience, and budgets, to take a chance at the reign category, the World Rally Car class of rallying cars.
SEATs three conquests of the 2L FIA title, and the sport's popularity in Spain, probably convinced Volkswagen Group management to go further, and allocate sufficient budgets to the SEAT Sport department so as to allow it a chance to reach its goal. This situation came to an end in September 2000, when the company's, German upper management revoked its decision, and budgets, forcing SEAT Sport to retire from the World Rally Championship. The absence of convincing results must have obviously helped the management's decision.
SEATs project to build a WRC-spec car was officially announced during the 1997 San Remo rally. It was in 1998 that the SEAT Córdoba WRC was first enrolled by the company to compete at the highest level of WRC racing. The Córdoba was based on the family saloon of the same name but was, naturally, a WRC class car. It had a 4 cylinder turbocharged petrol engine, permanent four-wheel drive, and active differentials were involved in its transmission. However, the short wheelbase and high-mounted engine (compared to its rivals) worked against the Córdoba, and results weren't impressive. Despite hiring ex-WRC champion Didier Auriol, and a new evolution of the car, SEAT pulled out of international rallying at the end of 2000.
In 2003, SEAT announced a one-make championship for the new SEAT León Cupra R, the SEAT Cupra Challenge.
In 2004, SEAT with Ray Mallock Ltd. (RML) entered the British Touring Car Championship, running two SEAT Toledo Cupra for former-BTCC Champion Jason Plato, and 2003 León UK Champion, Rob Huff. In 2005, Huff left to join Chevrolet (run by RML in the World Touring Car Championship (WTCC), and he was replaced by 2004 Leon Champion James Pickford, and Luke Hines as SEAT expanded to three cars, now run by Northern South. 2006 saw the Toledo replaced by the new León, and Darren Turner joined the team with James Thompson when his WTCC commitments allowed. 2007 was SEAT's best year in BTCC, as Plato was locked in a season-long battle with Fabrizio Giovanardi, which came down to the final race of the season, but just missed out on the title.
Since 2005, SEAT has also competed in the World Touring Car Championship, with its best season being 2007, where a failed water pump robbed Yvan Muller of certain victory at the final meeting in Macau. SEAT utilised Audi's pioneering diesel engine technology (from the Audi R10 TDI LMP1) in touring cars, when they became the first team to run a TDI in the WTCC. SEAT's UK team followed suit in the 2008 BTCC. The team is also now to be sponsored by Holiday Inn in the BTCC.
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