GUIDO REINKING

Will VW give new Seat boss time to succeed?

Guido Reinking is editor-in-chief of Automobilwoche, a sister publication of Automotive News Europe.Guido Reinking is editor-in-chief of Automobilwoche, a sister publication of Automotive News Europe.
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Juergen Stackmann could certainly use some luck as the new boss of Volkswagen Group's ailing Spanish unit Seat.

Generations of senior executives have struggled with VW's problem child, but none have tamed it.

Volkswagen employees who criticize rival mass-market carmakers PSA/Peugeot-Citroen or Opel are easily hushed by the mention of the Seat marque, which is the only one of VW's 12 brands to continually underperform.

General Motors' money-losing Opel brand has a lot in common with Seat. Both are heavily dependent on European markets badly shaken by the euro crisis, both have little exposure to developing markets and both have no presence at all in the key U.S. market.

As a carmaker, if this is your international positioning and you are in a volume segment to boot, you have little or no reason to feel especially good right now.

It doesn't matter how good your products are -- and Seat cars are very good. This can be seen by a recent test conducted by the German auto magazine Auto Bild, in which the Seat Leon topped BMW's 1 series.

But a good product is just one of several preconditions for success. Design is another, and again Seat doesn't fail here. Where it does falter is in the area of brand awareness, and this is where VW and Ford Motor marketing veteran Stackmann must make his mark.

One example of VW's woeful attitude to Seat's market value is the Mii. This city car, a variant of VW's Up, is sold in Europe at a lower price than Skoda's Up derivative, the Citigo. This effectively means Seat, not Skoda, is the low-cost brand within the VW Group.

Stackmann must therefore face the question that none of his predecessors have answered satisfactorily: what does the Seat brand really stand for?

If he finds the correct answer, solving Seat's problems will take time. It takes stamina, money and creativity to build a brand, as seen by the rejuvenation of sibling brand Audi, which took 20 years.

The big question is whether VW Group will give Stackmann enough time to get Seat back on the right track. For many of his predecessors, the top job at Seat was a hot seat.

Good luck Juergen Stackmann.

You can reach Guido Reinking at greinking@craincom.de.

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