The “Sociedad Española de Automóviles de Turismo, S.A.” may have been established on 9 May 1950, but SEAT is far from being a pensioner – after an incredibly eventful history, the Spanish car maker now boasts a distinctive character and a clear strategy, with a dynamic model line-up, state-of-the-art technology and exciting design. And the Technical Centre in Martorell is also host to intensive work on the future – the SEAT IBE concept car delivers a first impression of how exciting the Spanish cars will be in the age of electro-mobility.

“SEAT is heading on a clear course towards the next phase of its development. With the introduction of the Ibiza ST and the new Alhambra, in autumn, the SEAT product line-up is the newest in its history,” says James Muir, President of SEAT, S.A. “We fulfil a broad spectrum of customer desires, yet always deliver automobiles with unique character. Every SEAT is unmistakeable in its design, is incredibly sporty and offers innovative technology at outstanding value-for-money. The most important thing, however, is our highly motivated teams in design, development and production.”

60 years after it was founded on 9 May 1950, the company is better prepared for the future than ever. The workforce at its headquarters in Barcelona stands at 11,000, with around 1,300 people working at the Technical Centre, the brand’s research and development centre. The central production site is the Martorell plant, which is one of the most advanced in Europe, with its highly developed logistics systems and flexible production processes. Around 2,000 cars are built there every day. Since 1953, SEAT has produced more than 16 million vehicles, with 2009 contributing a volume of 337,000 new units. Two thirds of production is exported, with the majority going to the European market. Globally, SEAT has more than 3,000 sales and service outlets in a total of 72 countries.

With the introduction of the new Alhambra MPV in autumn, SEAT will have overhauled its entire model line-up. It encompasses five model ranges – the Ibiza, Leon, Altea, Exeo and Alhambra – with a wide array of body styles and engine variants. The sporting highlights are represented by the powerful FR and CUPRA versions. SEAT is just as successful when it comes to efficiency technologies – the ECOMOTIVE variants are among the most frugal in their class. SEAT meets a broad spectrum of customer wishes, from 265 hp/195 kW in the Leon CUPRA R to CO2 emissions of only 98 grams/km in the Ibiza ECOMOTIVE.

New models for the future

The new Alhambra is the newest model in the SEAT line-up. The innovative versatility of the completely redesigned Spanish Multi-Purpose Vehicle (MPV) is as perfectly suited to a family as it is to the demands of a high-mileage business driver. Just like every SEAT, sporting character and driving fun stand side by side with a high degree of usability. Thanks to its surprisingly dynamic handling, powerful drivelines ranging from 140 to 200 hp and the latest hi-tech equipment, every kilometre driven in the Alhambra is a joy – especially as they don’t come at the expense of outstanding efficiency. With average fuel consumption of only 5.5 litres, the Alhambra sets a benchmark in its segment.

The future began a long time ago for SEAT – with a taster already unveiled live at the 2010 Geneva Auto Salon, by the name of IBE. With this compact sports coupé, SEAT is delivering an impressive statement of stunning design and great driving fun for the age of electric mobility. The SEAT IBE concept car uses the zero-emissions drive of the future in a sporty and dynamic concept for urban mobility, while the clean, athletic styling of the IBE concept offers an exciting perspective on the ongoing development of the next generation of SEAT design. Powerful proportions and a precise, clear design language define the continued evolution of the Spanish brand’s design DNA.

SEAT Company history

The brand has reached a stage of maturity with a consolidated product line-up and an accumulation of valuable experience that puts it on the path to take on the challenges of tomorrow with guarantees of success. SEAT embodies the past, the present and the future of our country’s car manufacturing industry.

SEAT has become a prominent brand since its integration within the VW group and is a common fixture in most market segments with a broad range of models featuring home-made design, strong personality and Mediterranean flavour. By joining this great consortium, SEAT benefits from common investment in research and development, access to cutting-edge technologies and valuable know-how in several areas.

One of the resulting synergies is sharing and jointly developing the basic platforms of group cars, which leads to sharp cost-cutting. At the same time, expansion into European markets continually grows thanks to the group’s extensive distribution network. SEAT’s early calling as an export company has intensified in recent years.

But things weren’t always like that, neither for the brand nor for the country. When the company was set up in the postwar period, the fleet of vehicles was in a precarious state; there weren’t any working factories and personal transportation needs were barely taken care of with motorcycles or microcars running on a motorcycle engine.

After several unsuccessful attempts, the SEAT project took shape in 1948 through an initiative taken by the government and a conglomerate of private investors. Contacts with several foreign manufacturers finally resulted in an agreement with Fiat.

All of this happened exactly six decades ago. History in the making.

50s

Sixty years ago today, the spring of 1950 saw the origins of “Sociedad Española de Automóviles de Turismo “ — SEAT. The company was officially set up on 9 May when an agreement was signed between the public INI organisation (Instituto Nacional de Industria, with 51% of the share capital or 600 million pesetas of the time, equivalent to 3.6 million euros today), seven large Spanish banks (42%) and Italian car manufacturer Fiat (7%), who contributed technical assessment and a manufacturing licence for their models.

The factory, erected on a site in Barcelona’s Zona Franca next to the harbour, stood on a surface area of 20 hectares. The covered facilities exceeded 95,000 square metres, most of which (75,000 m2 ) was set aside for assembly, 7,500 for offices and laboratories, 2,300 for the thermal power station and the rest for warehouses. The choice of the Catalan capital wasn’t arbitrary – since the beginning of the 20th century, Barcelona had been the country’s car manufacturing hub, both home-grown (Hispano-Suiza, Elizalde) and foreign (Ford Motor Ibérica, General Motors Peninsular). The city therefore had an extensive industrial background and a pool of skilled labour.

The assembly line came to life in May 1953, and SEAT’s first car rolled off on 13 November – the 1400 A, an impressive rear-wheel drive sedan with a 4 cylinder front-mounted 44 hp engine, the historic equivalent to today’s Exeo. Daily output was five cars and the workforce was 925 strong – but these figures would increase exponentially.

By the end of 1954, 959 units had been delivered for a sales volume of 123 million pesetas. A year later production climbed to 3,000 units, with nearly 100% domestic components, and the number of workers stood at 1,700. In 1956, 7,000 cars were built; the following year the figure was 10,000. Two years later the workforce numbered 5,000. Faced with the lack of related industries, SEAT was forced to stimulate the creation of supply companies in order to nationalise all the components of the 1400, providing them with technical assessment, patents and in some cases working capital.

In 1957 SEAT launched the 600, which practically gave the country its first wheels. The impact of this tiny rear-mounted rear-wheel drive utility car on Spanish society is still under sociological analysis today. Not only was it the first car for many, but it was an injection of quality of life that provided mobility and freedom like no other product in Spain had ever managed to do.

Its arrival transformed Spanish streets and roads. Legions of microcars and motorcycles with or without sidecar that were so common were gradually replaced. Because the 600 was a real car, with its 4 cylinder engine, its metal doors, room for four people and even heating.

The new SEAT caused a great deal of excitement and orders began pouring in. By March 1957 there were more than 100,000 and the company couldn’t take any more. The market at the time had a limited offer and the few existing brands a low output. But SEAT was in the best position to take on the challenge and in one year, production figures of the 600 multiplied by six. Profits reached a peak around 1956, at 15%. In the second half of the decade, the proportion of distributed profit gradually increased to 13% in 1958. the recession linked to economic reforms caused margin to slip and froze paid dividends in 1959. Profit margins began improving in the 60s due to sharp sales increases, and levelled off at around 10%.

60s

At the beginning of the new decade SEAT was already a major player in Spain’s car industry. The country settles into a period of economic growth and gradually replaces agriculture with developments in new sectors like tourism and services, where the car plays a crucial role. The initial 1400 A has been revamped twice; its latest version, the 1400 C, foreshadows the chassis of the future SEAT 1500, the market benchmark sedan for many years, which was widely put to use by the state administration (official vehicle, police car, ambulance, etc) and also used as a taxi.

The launch of the D version in 1963 coincides with the blossoming of the 600, which dominates the country’s landscape. Heavy demand leads to a rise in production (from 80 cars daily in the first quarter of 1961 to 100, followed by 120 and a steady increase to 240 by the end of 1964), making costs go down, a lower selling price and consequently renewed demand.

Although waiting lists are still long, the population had largely shifted from the motorcycle to the SEAT 600. Family outings at weekends become more common. Housing developments spring up everywhere. Even racing competitions begin to thrive thanks to keen motoring enthusiasts. Few stages of Spanish history have owed so much to the car for energising society. At the same time that the industrial network grows with more factory-supplied components, employment opportunities generate more labour, much of which stems from immigration to Catalonia from the southern regions of Andalusia, Extremadura and Murcia.

The small car is lovingly dubbed seiscientos and is to Spain what the Renault 4CV is to France, the Fiat Topolino and 500 to Italy, the Mini to the United Kingdom and the Beetle to Germany – a people’s car. By 1973, a total of 800,000 are built, but Fiat is at pains to ensure that it produces only for the local market. Nevertheless, the Spaniards find their first (tiny) loophole for the 600 – and export 150 units to Colombia. It is not until a later, more generous version of the licence contract that Fiat permits more freedom – ultimately leading, between 1970 and 1973, to the SEAT 600 becoming the best-selling car in Finland!

Right from the beginning, SEAT knew what its social impact would be. When the factory was being made,
46,000 square metres of land was purchased to build the SEAT housing development, as the outlook of waves of new arrivals would require living quarters as well as sports and education facilities. The company also paid special attention to training apprentices to fill vacancies, and providing periodic training sessions to those interested in moving up in category.

In this stage SEAT consolidates its distribution network and strengthens its leadership in the market. The workforce stands at 10,000 and 300 cars are made daily. Production quadruples to nearly 160,000 units in 1967. The range is extended with the 1500 Familiar, the 800 – a four-door version of the 600 created by SEAT – and the 850. In 1967 FISEAT is set up so that customers can easily finance the purchase of their car. At that time nearly 15,000 people are employed by SEAT.

Boosted by new agreements among the shareholders, Fiat increases its participation to 36% while the INI decreases its own to around the same level and share capital doubles to 1.8 billion pesetas. But the most important outcome is that Fiat backs SEAT’s plan to try and export 20% of its output. The initial shipments of the SEAT 600 to Colombia turns into an export operation to twelve different countries.

The new 124 makes its debut in 1968, the company employs 20,000 workers and annual production registers 200,000 cars. The SEAT number 1 million, a yellow 124, is handed over to Rosa Zumárraga on the TVE game show “Un millón para el mejor”. The following year sees the 1430 on the market, another exclusive SEAT model, and the family-sized 124, with a level of quality and performance and reasonable price that put them in a league of their own ahead of rivals. By the end of the decade SEAT has consolidated its position as the country’s leading manufacturer.

70s

SEAT soon reaps the rewards of the increasing purchasing power of the Spanish public. In 1971 SEAT advances to become Spain’s largest industrial company; and in 1974, with revenues of just under one billion dollars, it is number eight among Europe’s vehicle makers. The tremendous rate of economic growth towards the end of the Franco era is evidenced by the fact that, by the mid-seventies, no less than 48 percent of households own a car – ten years earlier, it was only 27 percent.

The number of cars on Spanish roads keeps growing. At the beginning of the 70s there are nearly 2.4 million, half of which carry the SEAT badge. The brand has become the country’s largest industrial company barely twenty years after it was set up. The range is extended with the sporty versions of the 124 and the 132, a high-end model that takes over where the 1500 left off, and exports increase ten-fold to over 55,000 units per year in 1971.

The Fórmula 1430 competition, exclusive to single-seaters equipped with the popular sedan’s twin camshaft engine, is a clear indication of SEAT’s competitive streak. It becomes the country’s major event, especially in rally competitions, and provides a long list of national wins as well as two second-place European wins and third and fourth place finishes at the 1977 edition of the mythical Montecarlo Rally, where the official 1430-1800 cars were driven by Antonio Zanini and Salvador Cañellas.

In tune with motoring trends of the time, SEAT turns to front-wheel drive on the new 127, its first multi-purpose everything up front car (engine and transmission) in 1972. It is soon joined by a four and five-door home-grown version, without an Italian counterpart. The Martorell Technical Centre opened in 1975 to address the need for developing unique products. It becomes the breeding ground for the SEAT 133, the company’s first original design based on the platform of the 850, whose production is even licensed in Argentina and Egypt; the 52 hp 1,010 cc engine for the 127 Especial, another company first; and the daring 1200/1430 Sport, designed in joint collaboration with Inducar.

It was originally conceived by Italian designer Aldo Sassano for a rear-engine NSU – with the air vents in the rear wings still bearing witness. In the SEAT, however, they serve only to ventilate the boot – because the engine putters away in front, mounted transversely at a forward angle of 16 degrees. The chassis comes from the 127, while the 67 hp engine is from the larger 124.

The coupé, which still looks impressive today, is quickly dubbed by locals the Bocanegra (“black mouth”) – because it has a plastic mask surrounding the headlamps and radiator grille that is always black, regardless of the body colour. The in-house development is given a power boost to 77 hp in 1977 and becomes the “1430”. Potential customers were young men who could not afford a 124 Sport Coupé. SEAT returned to the design theme in 2008 with the “Bocanegra” study and, in 2010, an equipment package for the Ibiza SC also pays homage to the magical name with a partially black front end.

1974 income reaches nearly one billion dollars, making SEAT the eighth-largest European manufacturer and the only one that designs, develops and manufacturers cars in Spain. It has a new assembly line and central warehouse in Martorell, the workforce exceeds 30,000 and daily production is 1,900 cars. But growth doesn’t stop there; after Authi closes in 1975, SEAT acquires the Landaben factory in Navarra at the request of the INI to guarantee jobs and transfers production of the successfully revamped 124.

By then, SEAT begins to face growing foreign competition from opportunity-seekers settling in Spain. They react by modernising and restructuring several aspects relating to their company strategy (production costs, labour efficiency, model line-up), implementing customer service guidelines and offering better warranties (twelve months on all models, firm prices from purchase contract to delivery, repairs managed by official garages, technical road assistance…).

By the time the SEAT number four million rolls out of the factory there are over a thousand dealership outlets. New models are available (128, 131, Ritmo) and existing ones are updated (127, 132); the Landaben factory begins building the sporty Lancia Beta Coupe and Beta HPE. The winds of change bring a transition to democracy and the arrival of a new, more urban, better educated middle class. One image that reflects current affairs at the time is of prime minister Adolfo Suárez arriving at the Parliament at the wheel of his own SEAT 127.

But things aren’t so rosy in the company’s accounts. The 1978 balance sheet shows a loss of 10,374 million pesetas with a production of 288,487 cars. Lifting import restraints and the government’s industrial policy greatly benefits the arrival of foreign companies. The INI and shareholding banks propose gradual sell-offs of up to 81% of Fiat’s stake over two years with a constant injection of capital. Fiat accepts the proposal after lengthy negotiations, with a series of conditions that include liberalising the price of cars, workforce reductions when necessary and economic guarantees from the State on requested loans. But the future of SEAT holds even more unsuspected changes.

80s

Despite the prestige of their products, SEAT proceeds cautiously into the 80s. Market share has decreased by 26%, the workforce has been slashed and accumulated losses total more than 23,655 million pesetas in 1982. Plunged into financial distress, Fiat decides not to endorse the second stage of capital increase. They finally reach an agreement whereby Fiat sells its shares for the symbolic price of one peseta and commits to buying 400,000 vehicles manufactured in Spain over the next five years and sell them through its own network under the Fiat name. At the same time, SEAT could export their own models not manufactured under Italian licence.

A crucial time has come for the Spanish brand to pick itself up, shake itself off and start anew, using all the resources at hand and applying the creativity and ability to react that characterise it. Three models are developed in barely three years based on existing engines, and a totally new car is unveiled that will become the company’s greatest icon. SEAT’s renovation also includes a new blue corporate logo and the assimilation of Spanish city names for their models – Ronda, Málaga, Marbella, Ibiza…

But the road was still bumpy. Fiat appeals to the International Court over a controversy that the new Ronda, designed by Fissore and the Technical Centre based on the Ritmo, is too similar to the model it stems from. But SEAT prepares a special unit with all the elements that distinguish it painted in another colour to demonstrate its originality. In 1983 judges in Paris rule in favour of SEAT and Ronda production and exportation goes ahead. Another positive development are the budding ties with the Volkswagen group. SEAT signs a distribution agreement for the Audi and VW models through its dealership network and the production of the Polo/Derby and the Passat/Santana in Spain. This is the first step towards an extremely beneficial collaboration between the two.

If there’s one car that identifies the dynamic, ambitious, gung-ho spirit of 80s Spain it’s the SEAT Ibiza. Mirroring the international party-going image of the Mediterranean island, its 1984 launch signals a turning point in Spain’s motoring scene. It is the first truly domestic car created by SEAT, designed by Giugiaro and powered by Porsche, that lend credibility to the slogan “Latin looks, German character”. Without ignoring the fact that the publicity campaign titled “The new generation has arrived” deeply affects Spanish society as it comes to grips with historical legislative elections in 1982, the key factor to its success is the Stuttgart-designed engine range; the System Porsche legend embossed on the Ibiza’s engine reimburses every penny of the German invoice back to SEAT (and to the supplier a substantial royalty of seven German marks for every car sold).

After the then VW Chairman Dr. Carl H. Hahn persuades socialist prime minister Felipe González to consent to the privatisation of SEAT, the Wolfsburg group acquires an initial shareholding of 51 percent on 18 June 1986. Shortly before Christmas that same year, this is increased to as much as 75 percent of SEAT shares. At the same time, the exports that are so existentially important to SEAT finally start to flow. Surprisingly, the first models (the Ronda) head for the Netherlands! In 1983, the new VW subsidiary also begins its activities in Germany, initially via an import company then, as of 1986, via its own subsidiary – SEAT Deutschland GmbH based in Mörfelden-Walldorf. Since then, more than one million SEAT vehicles have been imported to Germany. The integration process is slow, and also requires VW to invest around 500 billion pesetas. During this stage the brand’s sporting angle gets a new boost in the shape of SEAT Sport.

The 80s end for SEAT much better than they began. Production records are set at 474,149 cars yearly in 1989, and the company goes into the black again. SEAT contributes 15.2% of the VW group’s output, which is enough for management in 1999 to purchase the remaining shares to 99.9%. The new factory being built in Martorell is slated to become the brand’s main production centre, and one of the most modern on the continent. Above all, and thanks to the impressive Ibiza calling card, of which more than 500,000 have been made, European consumers begin to perceive the SEAT name as a symbol of originality.

90s

Fully integrated within the German conglomerate, SEAT removes the group’s other two big brands from its showrooms – Volkswagen and Audi – and steps up development of its new range. Several motor shows witness the changing face of the first model wholly created using VW technology in the guise of the Proto C, Proto T and Proto TL concept cars. The Toledo, unveiled to the public at the 1991 Barcelona Motor Show, is a two-volume, three-body sedan designed by Giugiaro. Despite a market downturn, SEAT is fifth on the list with 10% and the Ibiza as the fourth best-selling model in Spain.

The 1992 Barcelona summer Olympics are a unique opportunity for SEAT, which becomes the main supplier of fleet vehicles for the organisers, nearly 2,000 cars, and nearly all of them the new Toledo. The Martorell factory opens early the following year, an industrial complex with 3 million square metres and 404,000 square metres of facilities. Output can increase to over 1,500 units daily, which has required an investment of around 244,500 million pesetas. From here emerge the new Ibiza, equipped with a catalytic converter for all markets, and the Córdoba, which replaces the veteran Málaga.

A five-point tax reduction (from 33 to 28%) on new car purchases is not enough to alleviate the economic crisis faced by the company, which is made worse by the devaluation of the peseta. They decide to shut down the Zona Franca factory in October 1993, where a few offices and component presses remain active, and transfer the Toledo assembly to Martorell. Closure of the emblematic facilities sparks union anxiety and industrial action, putting the future of SEAT in danger. VW is willing to invest 130 billion pesetas to rescue it if the administration agrees to do the same – with 8 billion from the Catalan Generalitat and 38 billion from the central government. The operation takes its toll on the workforce, which lowers to 12,600.

On 22 February 1993, King Juan Carlos of Spain and the new Chairman of the Volkswagen Group Dr. Ferdinand Piëch inaugurate the Martorell production facility. One of the most modern car plants in Europe was constructed on three million square metres of green-field site in only 34 months. The second generation of the Ibiza and its Cordoba saloon version are the first models to leave the production line.

The 1995 presentation of the Alhambra MVP prototype proves that SEAT plans to take its development full steam ahead. The Alhambra and its twin siblings VW Sharan and For Galaxy will be built in the Palmela factory in Portugal, the first non-Spanish production. In 1996 two new spin-offs appear from the successful Ibiza – the two-door Córdoba SX and the Inca van, and the following year the first of the sporty Ibiza Cupra units. SEAT’s leadership in the World Rally Championship 2-litre category three years in a row from 1996 to 1998 leave no doubt as to SEAT Sport’s efforts. 1997 is the year of the Arosa, SEAT’s first sub-compact car, and the Córdoba Vario station wagon.

If the 1996 closing balance of 2,764 million is positive, the following year posts even better results, with a net profit figure of 11,051 million and 467,000 units built, 12.5% better than the previous year. Productivity also increases (from 53 to 59 units/worker/year) and the Martorell factory turns out 2,046 units daily compared to the 1,100 originally forecast. In 1998, the same year the second generation of the Toledo makes its debut and the Ibiza number 2 million rolls off the assembly line, SEAT manages to transfer production of the Arosa to Martorell (initially built by VW in Wolfsburg) and transfers the Polo to Landaben, over which it has regained ownership. The Toledo II is initially built in Brussels until volumes make it viable for Martorell. It’s not surprising that so much production can be carried out here; with 13,500 workers turning out 2,200 cars daily it is one of Europe’s most profitable car factories.

During this stage SEAT announces a complete renovation of its model line-up in five years, and invests 200 billion pesetas in R&D financed with its own funds. This is possible thanks to a year of record profits (24,462 million pesetas, 121.4% higher than the year before). The company unveils two unique cars at the 1999 Geneva Motor Show – the Fórmula concept car and the Toledo Cupra V6 – and its new corporate identity – a stylised red S that forcefully conveys SEAT’s brand values – passion, sportiness, dynamism and technology.

00s

The dynamic line, SEAT’s stylistic theme into the 21st century put forth by the company’s new design director Walter da Silva, sets the brand’s design course on the Salsa and Tango prototypes. At the same time, the model line-up undergoes a substantial renovation. There are more León versions (150 hp TDI, Cupra, Cupra R and FR), the Alhambra and the Arosa get revamped, the third generation Ibiza and second generation Córdoba are introduced, and SEAT Sport launches a limited series Ibiza Cupra R. After winning the German rally with the Córdoba WRC, SEAT withdraws from the event but returns to Spanish circuit racing by organising the first Supercopa León in 2002. With half a century of experience under its belt and integrated within the same group of brands with Audi and Lamborghini, SEAT is decidedly forward-looking, already sells its cars on the Internet (www.eSEAT.com) and adopts a new slogan that proudly declares its unmistakeably Latin-based Mediterranean personality: autoemocion.

At this stage SEAT resorts once again to competition. Hundreds of rally and track victories throughout the decades give them an enviable trophy cabinet, but SEAT’s sport policy goes to new levels. In 2003 the company registers the Toledo Cupra in the ETCC European Touring Car Championship. They compete in 2004 and the following year the event goes global (WTCC). SEAT begins racing with the Toledo Cupra but replaces it half-way through with the new León. The brilliant early results (3rd in 2006 and 2nd in 2007) only whet the appetite for what follows – SEAT outperforms all its petrol-powered rivals and the León TDI takes both the drivers’ and manufacturers’ titles in 2008 and 2009. Thanks to its advanced diesel technology SEAT manages something which seems impossible. It is the first time a Spanish make takes the title and an absolute first for a diesel engine to win a world touring car championship.

As a result, almost the entire line features a sporty Cupra R and FR version, including the new Altea. The Ibiza exceeds 4 million units. The range grows with more variants and evolves parallel to the latest market trends. The name chosen for the new Ibiza SC SportCoupé Bocanegra evokes SEAT’s recent past – this popular nickname for the sporty 1200/1430 Sport of the 70s remains embedded in the country’s collective memory. Furthermore, the new Exeo presented at the 2008 Paris Motor Show signals SEAT’s move into the semi-premium segment. SEAT’s prestige as a quality car maker with sporty appeal and at a reasonable price hasn’t stopped growing since the beginning of this millennium.