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Multi-repairer route 'will solve capacity'

Seat believes its retailers can solve overcapacity problems suffered by other VW Group brands like Audi and Volkswagen by becoming multi-franchised repairers.

Kevin James, Seat UK director, says spare capacity within the Seat network could encourage some retailers to apply for VW and Audi approved status. This spare capacity also makes it unlikely that independents would want to become approved Seat repairers, he adds.

All four volume brands – Volkswagen, Audi, Skoda and Seat – are close to finalising their new sales and servicing contracts under the revised block exemption regulations and there are significant similarities between each.

“Audi and VW have volume issues with their aftersales business with long lead times in some areas, so there is an opportunity for our dealers to take on this work,” says James. “Our standard requirements are lower than Audi's, but our dealers will only have to increase their standards a bit to meet each brand's approved criteria.”

Retailers would need to invest in training and pay the annual accreditation fee, but there is a clear opportunity for them to fill their workshops with profitable work.

Seat is also open to the prospects offered by multi-franchised sales premises and is talking to a number of other carmakers, including Skoda, about sharing sites in high cost city centres.

Ideally it needs a volume partner (Toyota, Honda?) to drive traffic to the showroom – buyers that might not ordinarily consider Seat cars. The company is on the cusp of a major product drive over the next couple of years as it positions to take a two per cent share of the market (this year James expects to sell 35,000 cars, around 1.2 per cent, next year 40,000).

The Leon Cupra R gets a power boost to 225bhp in October – ultimately it might become a 250bhp car – and new 130bhp diesels are added to the Leon and Toledo ranges this month. Next year will see the launch of a powerful new Ibiza Cupra with both petrol and diesel options starting at 150bhp.

“Over the next two to three years all of our models will gradually move this way in terms of design and power,” says James. The Toledo replacement is due at the end of 2004, a new Leon will be launched in early 2005 and both will be more powerful than their predecessors.

Retailers will also have an opportunity to sell into a new sector with the summer 2004 launch of the MSV (multi-sports vehicle). This versatile model, sporty in design and handling, will go head-to-head with compact MPVs – C-Max, Meriva – and SUVs like the RAV4.

Although the Leon-based MSV is likely to be a long-term replacement for the Alhambra, James insists the people carrier features in his plans to at least 2007/2008. The Salsa sports supermini also debuts next year, while James remains hopeful the UK will eventually get the Audi TT-based Tango.

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