Spain's Seat auto brand launches German sales drive

Moerfelden-Walldorf, Germany. Michael Grosche, the head of Seat Germany, is touring the country to make the Spanish brand more popular.

"One of our problems is that we are still little known here," the former Volkswagen manager said. The Seat brand is wholly owned by the Volkswagen group.

Grosche is preparing a road show that will travel through Germany. The so-called "Seat caravan" will start on May 2 in three cities and ultimately visit 63 towns.

Seat will show nine new models, focusing on the Altea compact van.

The program details are not set yet. Grosche's preference would be for the cars to be introduced by a presenter in each town's center, "preferably the market square."

Seat sold 61,405 cars in Germany last year, up 4.1 percent from the previous year. Grosche hopes to increase unit sales at least 3 percent in 2005, despite the slow market.

"We want to achieve a market share of 2 percent in 2005," he said. In 2004, Seat's market share in Germany was 1.9 percent.

The new Leon should ensure an increase in demand. The car will be available starting in September after the IAA in Frankfurt.

Grosche also hopes that two pending contracts with large customers will bring growth.

Grosche said the "inexpert discussion over soot particle filters" endangers the German car market. "But it will not hinder us in reaching our unit sales target," he said.

About 30 percent of Seat cars sold are diesel powered, but none have a diesel particle filter.

"We will be offering diesel filters for retrofitting from the second half of 2005," Grosche said.

He wants to tell dealers the filter retrofit campaign details as soon as possible, but doesn't yet know when the systems will be available or how much they will cost.

Eventually all Seat diesels will be available with soot filters as standard equipment.

"Step by step, all model series will be available with diesel particle filters," Grosche pledged.

The first models will be the Altea, Toledo, Leon and Alhambra, followed by the Ibiza and Cordoba.

"We expect that due to the filter hysteria our future customers will increasingly buy gasoline cars," Grosche said.

The manager is happy with sales through the "eSeat" online portal. He plans to sell approximately 1,000 cars that way in 2005 with price reductions of currently up to 13 percent.

Dealers' initial resistance to the Internet platform, he said, has now eased.

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