As SEAT enters the Chinese market, the Spanish brand focuses on its inherent strengths – its spirited character, emotional appeal and compelling design. This is exactly what SEAT wants young Chinese urbanites to experience when they get to know the brand and its sporty cars.
“Que viva China” – Long live China – was the cry at the Guangzhou Motor Show in November 2011. The Spanish brand celebrated its debut in the world’s largest automotive growth market in the booming southern Chinese city. A glance at the Chinese media over the following days gives SEAT reason to believe that the move will be a successful one: the popular automotive magazine “Ieche” is headlined “Spaniards with Volkswagen in their blood” and predicts that the “sporty look of the SEAT models” will appeal to young Chinese. Leading Internet forum QQ.com asked its users “Do you think that SEAT is a good fit with China?” Three-quarters agree, with many saying that they could see themselves buying a SEAT.
“We are targeting young, self-confident city dwellers. They want to drive a car that ticks all the technical boxes, epitomizes lifestyle and design, and is a little unconventional in terms of looks”, says SEAT president James Muir. The SEAT Leon will be launched in China in March 2012, followed by the new, compact Ibiza and the Alhambra MPV in the second half of the year. “We will start by introducing powerful, feature-packed vehicles that best represent our brand values”, says Muir. “We can then use this as a basis to expand our business step-by-step.” The SEAT models will be offered by 15 selected dealers in the major cities of Bejing, Shanghai, Chongqing, Shenzen, Wuhan, Chengdu and Guangzhou. A further 30 dealers in China have also expressed their interest.
As the brand enters the highly competitive Chinese market, SEAT can draw on the structures that Volkswagen has established over more than three decades. “Knowing that the number one in China is behind us is a huge advantage”, says a confident Muir. For the first time, the Volkswagen Group sold over two million vehicles in the world’s largest automotive market in 2011 and increased its market share to 18.2 percent.
The outlook for the Middle Kingdom is excellent because the desire for individual mobility is booming here. Experts anticipate that the Chinese passenger car market will grow further until 2015. Customers and their expectations will continue to become more diversified – a key trend identified in a study by Goldman Sachs’ automotive market analysts: “We are seeing more and more female and young car buyers in the demographic profile. In addition, the culture and values are becoming more diverse.” The SEAT brand fits this profile perfectly – not least because China’s sporty, compact vehicle segment is growing steadily. “The SEAT Leon combines the technical prowess of Volkswagen with the freshness of a lifestyle car”, enthuses a Chinese automotive journalist at the SEAT stand in Guangzhou. Its relationship to the Volkswagen Group gives the Spanish brand an important edge – credibility. The influential magazine “Car China” describes the compact SEAT as a “relative of the Golf”, explaining that “the Leon is no stranger to consumers. This is a real trump card for its entry into the Chinese market.”
SEAT is kicking off with plenty of spirit and passion. The marketing concept for China’s new automotive brand is called “five senses”. “We want to offer a buying experience that appeals to all of the senses. Dealers will give Chinese customers a taste of the Spanish lifestyle in their showrooms – allowing them to see, smell and feel Spain and SEAT”, explains Muir to press representatives in Guangzhou.
Muir also sees the People’s Republic as an excellent testing ground for the rest of the world. “In China, we are in the exciting position of being able to start from scratch”, explains the SEAT president. “We can realize our visions in terms of positioning and differentiating our brand in a completely new way here – and then drive it forward around the world.”