One of the more useful attributes of being a member company of a car giant is the access it has to an enormous supply chain, which Iain Robertson recognises as both multi-million Euros worth and highly flexible, aided by a pan-brand tool-kit.
Modern manufacturing malleability is a crucial measurement for future growth strategies, none more so than in the mighty motor industry, with its local employment strengths and subsequent contribution to the balance of payments of several nations. By most current reckoning, Toyota is just the largest carmaker in the world, with its stated aim of defeating Volkswagen Group in all aspects of quality, integrity, distributorship and, of course, the financials.
Yet, even the great Toyota has been forced into taking lessons from VW in respect of platform sharing, let alone judicious re-engineering of stock items, enabling their repurposing both up and down the model ranges, with minimal effort and without major costs being incurred, in order to improve the profit-on-return. When you consider that VW actually earns a whisker more than seven percent on each vehicle it sells, from which marketing costs are extracted, any savings that can be made from technology sharing and spreading the load are vital to its existence.
While VW Group owns a dozen or so major brands, it is its volume producers that help with fluidity and allow it to explore automotive flights of fantasy with brands like Bugatti, Lamborghini and even Bentley, but also its developments in electrification, now very much part of its future strategy. For many years, with VW as the spinal brand, executive Audi and value-orientated Skoda and Seat have provided the impetus. However, a couple of disturbing factors have arisen of late, the first in design integrity, with the second lying in cross-brand price parity.
While a New Beetle (now discontinued) looked markedly different to an Audi TT Coupe, a Volkswagen Jetta, Seat Leon and Skoda Octavia, they all shared the Golf platform, along with myriad other models from all four brands. Although the metal pressings that constitute a ‘platform’ have now changed to a more elementary but common shared suspension and drivetrain layout, the shared-tech essence remains. Seat has benefited from it but it is becoming harder to discern one brand from the other, which must also create an in-company nightmare, when many of its production plants also create similar models, with different badges. Personally, I would like to see more variance between the brands.
However, when they are also closing the gaps on price, it starts to look worryingly like the mess in which British Leyland found itself, when ‘badge-engineering’ took precedence during the ill-state-funded 1970s. An Austin 1300 could be obtained with very few differences for the same price as a Morris 1300, with the Riley, Wolseley, MG and Vanden Plas variants following suit. Considering that Seat was a ‘budget’ brand, like Skoda, to turn its back on a tranche of its customers is not entirely satisfactory, even though it is perceived that buyers want increasing levels of convenience, comfort and luxury.
At least one aspect of Seat’s business remains sacrosanct: performance. Accepting that Cupra is a sister brand (with which I have personal difficulty), it is mildly gratifying to note that the much-shared 2.0-litre TSi engine has been installed in both VZ2 and VZ3 versions of the Cupra Leon. Developing a pleasant and very drivable 297bhp, accompanied by a bounteous amount of mid-range torque (295lbs ft) and driving through a seven-speed DSG, sequential automated-manual gearbox, its performance is electric. Despatching 0-60mph in 5.4s, before running on to a top speed (governed) of 155mph is quick by any definition but posting an attainable fuel return of 35.8mpg, while emitting a modest 171g/km CO2 underscores the efficiency of the VW power unit.
Of course, the rest of the Leon is par for the course, with sporty bucket seats that are well-trimmed and comfortable and decent space in the rear for at least two adults. There is also a roomy boot. I am not a fan of switchless slider controls that VW has adopted for several of its marques, although there exists a high-quality standard of presentation with which all VW devotees are familiar that is carried into the centre stack and both the main touchscreen and the smaller unit in front of the driver, both of which are configurable and are standards for the entire mainstream motor industry.
However, the Cupra Leon is not the only Seat brand to have benefited from an application of 2.0-litre TSi potency. Although it develops a lesser 242bhp, the Tarraco’s specification differs significantly from the Leon. For a start, it is all-wheel drive and available in strictly 7-speed DSG form. Yet, for a large SUV, it soon hikes up its skirts and scurries towards the horizon, claiming the 0-60mph sprint in a moderately swift 5.9s but topping out at 142mph. Its economy and emissions data are given as 30.7mpg and 195g/km CO2. While it is a range-topper, it is still available in FR (19.0-inch diameter alloy wheels), FR Sport (20.0-inch alloys), Xcellence (19s) and Xcellence Lux (20s) trims.
Earlier, I mentioned the pricing parity issue that I fear may limit some brand interest. If you feel comfortable with spending upwards of £39,400 on an SUV possessing only a limited reputation (the underpinnings are all VW, which helps, but, if memory serves, Seat is/was a budget brand!), spend away. It is less expensive than either the VW Tiguan+, or the Audi Q5 equivalents but, then, I reckon that they are sorely overpriced anyway.
Yet, requesting over the odds assumes another mantle for Cupra. Buyers will be asked for £35,660 for the VZ2 version, with the VZ3 commanding an additional £1,630, before ticking the options’ boxes and tailoring the car further. While fractionally less than an equivalent Golf, I am of the view that the VW brand carries greater kudos than Cupra. Sorry.
Conclusion: While not wishing to be cruel to Seat, a brand that I actually like, which is novel in itself, I fear that VW’s main board greed is going to spin around and bite somewhere nasty, unless it returns the brand to its perceived station.