Seat crosses the red line

While a red face is usually nothing to shout about, car manufacturer Seat is shouting long and hard about its red face at the moment. The company, of Spanish descent but owned by German parent Volkswagen Group, is changing its corporate colours to red from blue in a bid to show the sunnier side of its character.

This week’s Geneva Motorshow sees the launch of Seat’s new image, developed by Enterprise IG, and some of its new models. It completes the rebranding of VW’s mainline car brands.

Volkswagen, Audi and Skoda have all had their images massaged in recent years to fit in with the group plan to gain the biggest possible slice of the car market (see box). Diversity is the key, as the group attempts to offer something for everybody.

Volkswagen itself is positioned as the mainstream brand, with Audi the prestige offer and Skoda the value for money version. Considered to be four equal sisters within the group, according to a Seat spokesman, the brands share mechanical running gear for a number of models to bring down manufacturing and R&D costs.

The new, sunnier, Seat brand is, according to Seat’s spokesman: “The wild child of the bunch… it’s all about buying a bright yellow car with loads of power”. Colour is important to the new Seat philosophy. Its new positioning is encapsulated by the tag line introduced as part of the new identity – Automotive joy in life.

Consumer research commissioned by Seat showed its previous corporate colour, blue, was considered cold and North European-looking. Red, always popular with car makers, aims to be more vibrant, and to reflect Seat’s Mediterranean heritage.

Red will now provide the backdrop colour for dealerships, bonnet badges and most other applications of the Seat name. Silver and chrome will be used as secondary colours.

Product development looks set to become more vibrant too. Walter de Silva, formerly head of design at Alfa Romeo where he was responsible for development of the much-lauded 156, has been poached by Seat to oversee the development of its future models.

“Seat wants to raise the platform, to compete with Ford or Peugeot,” says Enterprise director Leslie Ryan.

According to Seat figures, the marque sold around 20 000 cars in the UK last year. “That’s about the same as Saab or Mazda. We have our sights on 30 000 before too much longer,” says Seat’s spokesman. “But we really are a niche brand. We choose a market where nobody else is going, and go there.” By comparison, market leader Ford sold 403 717 cars in the UK last year.

All this activity ties in neatly with Seat’s 50th anniversary next year. “In the last 20 years [since the outgoing identity was introduced] the brand has changed beyond all recognition,” he says.

While staff from Enterprise had a small number of meetings with Volkswagen Group representatives, Seat has had the independence within the Volkswagen Group to run the identity project itself. And the car maker wasn’t taking any chances.

Enterprise went through a six month pitch process, before working on parallel identity projects with Minale Tattersfield. Seat’s management then made a choice, awarding Enterprise the full contract.

Enterprise has simplified the Seat marque, reducing the number of horizontal strokes in the S which forms its badge, and making the word Seat more legible when it is used in full.

The project has lasted for two years, amid much secrecy. A separate office was set up for the Enterprise team working on the Seat identity.

The aim of the project was to communicate “Design flair, but value for money,” says Enterprise business development director Patrick Smith. While Seat is happy to capitalise on Volkswagen’s reputation for quality engineering, it can’t charge Volkswagen prices.

There was more to the project than developing a new badge and tagline, and choosing a new colour. New plans have beenmade for a complicated implementation project – there are over 3000 Seat dealerships worldwide, all of them currently blue. The Seat name or badge appears at least 75 times on any one car.

Enterprise is now developing sub-branding for Seat Sports, which runs the company’s successful rally team, Seat’s used car offers, and its spares and accessories division. And the branding consultancy has been working with ad agency Bates Dorland on advertising campaigns.

Other plans are in the pipeline, with Enterprise aiming to be in the frame for future Volkswagen Group work. “There will be more Volkswagen Group dealerships in the future,” says Ryan. Around 90 per cent of Seat dealerships sell just that brand, rather than a wider selection of marques, she says.

The future of traditional car dealerships hang in the balance as the EU ponders whether car manufacturers can maintain the block exemption system – whereby dealerships are restricted to selling one make of car. A multi-brand approach could help Volkswagen fight off the expected threat of new car supermarkets. It could maintain strict control over how vehicles were presented in its own outlets, while offering customers a wider choice.

And there are more brands in the Volkswagen stable. Italian supercar makers Lamborghini and Bugatti, UK groups Cosworth Engineering and, in the long term, Bentley, are all part of the group. The Rolls Royce name, meanwhile, becomes part of BMW.

All this could prove difficult for the motoring industry, which has long applied national identities to its products. Harnessing all the emotive power of multinational brands under one parent group, in the same dealership, will be challenging. But the potential rewards could be great.

On Your Marques

In 1995 Volkswagen and Audi appointed Berlin’s MetaDesign to review the global identities of both brands. The consultancy had previously developed Audi’s worldwide advertising design guideline, while Marketplace Design created new Audi dealership interiors.

MetaDesign in London was also responsible for last year’s repositioning of Skoda, Volkswagen Group’s budget brand.

Latest articles