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by Jay Traugott
Now that VW appears to have given up its attempt at buying Alfa Romeo, Seat could become the focus of renewed attention.
Seat should consider itself lucky. Parent company Volkswagen has been on a buying spree lately of everything Italian: Ducati, ItalDesign and the Nardo high-speed test track. But the real treasure was Alfa Romeo, the brand which VW chairman Ferdinand Piech stated several times he wanted to see become a part of his automotive empire. The thing was that Alfa's owner Fiat wasn't interested in selling. VW as a result has been working to reposition Seat as the Spanish alternative to the Italian marque it can't get its hands on.
Since buying Seat in 1990, Volkswagen has given it its own versions of existing models like the Polo (dubbed Ibiza) and Golf (Leon), only with edgier, more Latin-flavored styling. What VW hasn't done is really give Seat room to grow, but with the Alfa Romeo prospect looking increasingly unlikely, Seat's time could be approaching. In an interview with Auto Express, Seat president James Muir stated that there's going to be a "heightened focus on quality for all Seat cars...and that the new Leon sets the course for where our design is going. We have the highest technology...and now have the best that German engineering has to offer."
"We will make products that are centered right in the middle of their segments," added Muir, "something that customers understand straight away." The basic business model is to offer solid German engineering and quality with more dramatic styling, all at a lower price point than other VW models. So far, this appears to be working as Muir proudly stated that Seat is doing "well in the UK and is the second fastest growing brand in Germany." Whether Volkswagen will give its Spanish subsidiary enough funds to develop its own stand-alone products, however, is another matter entirely.