Interview: Giuseppe Tommaso of SEAT

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The SEAT Ateca C-segment SUV was the first car to be revealed to the press at the recent Geneva Show, the latest addition to a revitalised SEAT range. SUVs, particularly of this size were the fastest growing sector in

Europe, in terms of fleet and retail sales in 2015 and the arrival at last, of SEAT’s entrant in the market is expected to help boost SEAT’s growing fleet sales.

SEAT has been clear that it would be launching a Csegment SUV for a while and the car arrives when the market already offers a number of established rivals. We caught up with Giuseppe Tommaso, director of international fleet sales and remarketing at Geneva to discuss Ateca and other things.

“Sometimes if you are not among the first to launch a new model, it means you’re going to have a lot of advantages,” he comments. “Because you can include the latest features in your car and things that others are not offering.

This is the result of the great job our colleagues in R&D, Design and Quality have done. Recently we had a discussion with international experts representing 14 markets about RVs – they drove a pre-production model, not the final version and the outcome was very positive, so we would confirm that coming later can have some advantages.”

As mentioned previously, there are already a number of competitors in the sector, so, which are the closest rivals? “For sure, the best-selling model in the segment in Europe is the Qashqai,” says Tommaso, “Then the Koreans with the Kia Sportage and the Hyundai Tucson and we also have to take into consideration the Renault Kadjar that is selling well in France, so I think these four are our main competitors.

“If we also observe the evolution of the segment, it is much bigger than it was. Looking at the market, a lot of customers are coming from other segments. So we could also benefit from them.” Tommaso observes that in European fleet sales, the SUV segment accounted for 7% of the sales in 2006 and is now above 35%.

Since Tommaso moved to SEAT four years ago he has seen fleet sales increase significantly, “Mainly thanks to the new Leon, which has contributed a lot to the increase in the corporate sector. The recent face-lifted Ibiza is also getting some good results and Toledo also supported us, for example, we are selling a lot of taxis in Spain, but Leon was the majority of the volume.

“In terms of numbers every year we achieved two-digit growth. In the main markets we focus on, we have moved from around 42,000 cars in 2012 to over 74,000 last year and this growth is not only coming from the EU5 markets, but also from Belgium, Poland, Switzerland and Mexico.

“We have also been working more with the markets, focussing more on the processes and winning customers such as Siemens, Vodafone, Glaxo Smith Kline, to mention some and for the first time in Italian history, becoming the sole supplier of Police and Carabinieri cars.

“Now we have more than 200 fleet specialist dealers, fully dedicated to prospect small companies across 11 markets, including the European ‘Big 5’ – France, Germany Italy, Spain and the UK, as well as other markets such as Austria, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Belgium and also Sweden and Portugal.”

Tommaso also says that the station wagon fleet segment is slightly smaller than the SUV sector so Ateca has the potential to match or even outsell Leon ST when fleet sales get under way for the new model. “It’s probably not a car that you can sell in a big batch,” reckons Tommaso. “But for the user-chooser and also small companies where there is a combination of business use and private use we could have a lot of opportunities.”

When SUVs were heavy cars with high CO2 emissions, many fleets did not want to take them on, but with CO2 emissions down for these models and weights reduced, is that still an issue?

“Basically fleet car policy does not always allow sports cars, but SUVs, yes,” says Tommaso. “We see more and more growth in fleet. We can say that an SUV is not a typical service car, but more in the area of user choosers, so if accepted on company car lists it will be requested because of the higher driving position, versatility and space. There are also special fleet categories such as some police cars or forestry vehicles, where this kind of car is needed with four-wheel drive.

SEAT has carried out an analysis of the European fleet market and found that one third of the SUVs bought for fleet use were sold in the UK. Tommaso thinks this is for two reasons, “The size of the fleet market. It’s the biggest in

“We got a lot of interest from the leasing companies just to say this could be a serious alternative to the most successful SUVs, so we have a lot of expectations from these promising comments.” Ateca is due to go on sale in June.

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