Seat makes a comeback

Spanish brand returns under Chery dealer Vertex Automobile after more than 10 years

An entire range of Seat models, such as the Leon Cupra hot hatch (above), will be available in Singapore.
An entire range of Seat models, such as the Leon Cupra hot hatch (above), will be available in Singapore. PHOTO: NEWSPRESS

Volkswagen-owned Spanish brand Seat is making a comeback after an absence of more than 10 years.

Vertex Automobile, the distributor of China's Chery, has clinched the franchise and is expected to start selling Seat cars here from July.

The Straits Times understands that Seat will operate out of Chery's showroom at 3 Ubi Road 4. Chery will move to another location.

An entire range of models will be available, ranging from subcompacts to hot hatches to wagons, crossovers and MPVs.

Seat cars are based on VW models, with similar engines and transmissions. But they are known to have edgier and sportier designs.

Observers say, however, that Vertex will face an uphill battle since VW is well-established here. VW also has a cost advantage because the manufacturer and retailer are one and the same.

For instance, Skoda, a VW-owned Czech brand, failed to take off here primarily because its cars were less competitively priced when compared with equivalent VW models.

Seat was last represented by taxi operator Comfort Group (before its merger with DelGro). When Comfort quit the motor business in 2003, Seat was the only brand not picked up by another agency. Other brands which Comfort held - such as Maserati, Peugeot and Perodua - have found new representatives.

Asked how it will compete against VW, a Vertex spokesman says "we will have our way".

Indeed, Vertex has done comparatively well with Chery despite overwhelming odds such as the poor press reception and stratospheric COE premiums.

According to Land Transport Authority figures, there were 1,553 Chery cars on the road as of the end of last year, making it the most popular Chinese brand here.

In fact, its population is larger than the combined population of all the other Chinese brands in Singapore.

Its population is also bigger than Opel's (1,496) and more than three times Skoda's (456) and SsangYong's (437). And these brands have been around longer than Chery.

Mr David Ting, editor of motoring magazine Torque, says Seat has "a fair chance" of succeeding here.

"Seat is like the Alfa Romeo of the Volkswagen Group, with sportylooking models that are fun to drive or at least to look at."

He reckons it could start by pricing its cars lower than equivalent VW models and by offering a higher equipment level.

"The Seat range in Europe now includes a compact SUV, the Ateca. It's the Spanish version of the latest Volkswagen Tiguan. The two cars will be natural rivals in Singapore's growing SUV segment," he observes.

"If the Ateca can undercut the new VW Tiguan by 15 to 20 per cent, bringing the Spanish SUV closer to the popular Nissan Qashqai 1.2 in price, it'll give the Tiguan a run for the money."

Seat is not the only Spanish make that is making a splash here soon. Spania GTA - maker of the GTA Spano supercar - has appointed Lamborghini dealer EuroSports Auto as its representative.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 09, 2016, with the headline 'Seat makes a comeback'. Print Edition | Subscribe