How Seat was the biggest winner of 2011

This time last year Seat’s future was in doubt. Parent group Volkswagen was rumoured to be interested in buying Alfa Romeo as its sporty arm, casting doubt over slow-selling Seat’s future.

However, a shift in emphasis for its cars for 2011 has led the Spanish car maker to become one of the biggest success stories of the year.

While new car sales dipped in 2011 as manufacturers found it hard to shift cars, Seat guessed correctly that the business market would be first to recover.

Latest data now shows 60 per cent of new cars were to business and fleet customers and the percentage of diesel cars – a favourite of fleets – surpassed petrol for the first time.

For Seat, a manufacturer more associated with sporty hot hatches such as the Seat Leon Cupra R, it does not seem like an ideal fit to target fleet sales.

However, the plan paid off. A dedicated sales team backed up by superb fleet cars such as the all-new, seven-seat Seat Alhambra (What Car? MPV of the Year) and a revamped Seat Exeo saloon and estate saw Seat record its biggest market share in the UK for the third consecutive year.

Businesses were lured in with VAT-free offers at the start of the year, new equipment-packed trim levels such as the Seat Leon and Seat Ibiza Copa and more recently, discounts on Seat cars and as a result, sales have increased by nearly ten per cent in 2011.

According to figures from the Society of Motoring Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), Seat is one of few volume manufacturers to record a sales growth in the UK. This is justification for a focus on fleet buyers and business users.

However, simply offering money off would never have been enough to entice business buyers to ditch their premium German cars for a less expensive Seat.

But Seat has another ace up its sleeve. Its Ecomotive range of diesel cars push CO2 emissions for both the Ibiza supermini and Leon hatchback below 100g/km – and into the zero road tax bracked.

It also affects Benefit-in-Kind tax for businesses and the subsequent low running costs are ideal for fleet operators hoping to cut back on their expenses.

The Ecomotive logo can be found on the greenest cars across the Seat range and has become the badge to look out for when businesses turn the Spanish manufacturer.

There are no longer rumours of Seat being dropped by Volkswagen. In fact, Seat will launch several new cars in 2012 including the eagerly anticipated Seat Mii, a stylish city car set to take on the likes of the Ford Ka in the UK.

Managing Director of Seat UK, Peter Wyhinny, said: “I’m thrilled to see so many more new car buyers not only considering Seat, but actually taking the decision to buy one of our sporty, dynamic and exciting new cars.

“Now, with the largest product offensive in our history due in 2012 including the debut of the exciting Mii city car, I’m more confident than ever that we can look forward to a prosperous and successful future in the UK.”

If 2012 is anything like 2011, Seat will once again be the one to watch in the UK market.