SEAT, S.A. (English pronunciation: /ˈseɪ.æt/ say-at, Spanish: ) is a Spanish automobile manufacturer founded on May 9, 1950 by the Instituto Nacional de Industria (INI), a state-owned industrial holding company.
It is currently a wholly owned subsidiary of the German Volkswagen Group, as a member of the now-defunct Audi Brand Group, together with Audi and Lamborghini, and marketed as a car maker with a youthful sporty profile. Within the Volkswagen Group and under the Audi Brand Group, the SEAT brand itself has been developed as a group with subsidiary companies (SEAT Group) and 'SEAT, S.A.' as the parent company.
The headquarters of SEAT, S.A. are located at SEAT's industrial complex in Martorell near Barcelona, Spain. By 2000 annual production peaked at over 500,000 units; in total up to 2006, over 16 million cars have been produced including more than 6 million from the Martorell plant, with three-quarters of the annual production being exported to over seventy countries worldwide.
The name SEAT, previously standing for the acronym Sociedad Española de Automóviles de Turismo (Spanish Touring Car Company, in English), in 1990 was changed to SEAT, S.A.
SEAT today is the only major Spanish car manufacturer with the ability and the infrastructure to develop its own cars in-house.
Its headquarters and main manufacturing facilities are located in Martorell, an industrial town located some 30 kilometres northwest of Barcelona, with a production capacity of around 500,000 units per annum. The plant was opened by King Juan Carlos of Spain on February 22, 1993, and replaced SEAT's former assembly plant by the coast in Barcelona's freeport zone (Zona Franca). A rail connection between SEAT's Martorell and Zona Franca complexes facilitates vehicle and parts transportation between the two sites.
The industrial complex in Martorell also hosts the facilities of SEAT Sport, SEAT's Technical Center, Research and Development Center (R&D), Design Center, Prototypes Centre of Development, SEAT Service Center (also incorporating the After-Sales Service division, the Customer Services division and the Catalunya Motor dealership), as well as the Genuine Parts Centre for SEAT, Volkswagen, Audi and Škoda brands.
The development and assembly facilities are some of the newest and most modern and efficient within the Volkswagen Group, giving the SEAT Martorell site the ability to produce high-quality cars not only for its own brand but also for other Volkswagen Group brands, such as Volkswagen and Audi. For example, the development and design of several Audi models (e.g. the Audi A1, the Audi A3 Sportback, the Audi Q5 etc.) and also several Audi development projects took place there, and from 2011 onwards the Martorell plant will manufacture the Audi Q3 small SUV.
The Barcelona Zona Franca site includes the SEAT Training Centre, the Zona Franca Press Shop factory, producing stamped body parts, and the Barcelona Gearbox del Prat plant, producing gearboxes not only for SEAT but also for other Volkswagen Group marques (VW, Audi and Škoda); the latter plant was awarded the Volkswagen Excellence Award in 2009 by the Volkswagen Group for high-quality production process and product.
Another plant owned directly by SEAT from 1975 was the Landaben plant in Pamplona, but on December 1993 its ownership was transferred to the Volkswagen Group subsidiary "Volkswagen-Audi-Espana, S.A.", and the site today is producing Volkswagen cars in Spain. However, SEAT's Martorell site still provides support to Volkswagen's operations in the Pamplona plant when necessary, as it did after a serious fire in the paint shop in the Landaben VW plant in April 2007.
Factories of the Volkswagen Group currently producing SEAT models also include the Palmela AutoEuropa site in Portugal, while in the past other plants were involved too in producing SEAT models, such as the factories in Germany (Wolfsburg), Belgium (Brussels) and Slovakia (Bratislava). Future plans include a new Research and development (R&D) centre in the city of Barcelona in the field of environmental and energy efficiency for the entire Volkswagen Group and also the launch of a project on the city's urban mobility, as well as a SEAT museum in the Zona Franca's 'Nave A122' site hosting all production and prototype models ever presented by SEAT together with some special or limited edition vehicles with historical value for the brand and the automotive history of Spain.
Among SEAT's subsidiaries, the SEAT Deutschland GmbH subsidiary company is based in Mörfelden-Walldorf, Germany, and apart from its commercial activities has the further responsibility of operating SEAT's electronic platform, the SEAT IT Services Network. In Wolfsburg, Germany, in the middle of a lake inside the Autostadt, the Volkswagen Group's corporate theme park, is SEAT's thematic pavilion, one of the largest pavilions in the park.
The construction works for SEAT's Zona Franca plant began on 1950 and the opening day came three years later on June 5, 1953, while in the meantime since 1951 the Spanish marque was starting preparations for setting up almost from scratch an entire supplier industry background. The first car in the marque's history to be produced was a SEAT 1400 model that came off the production line on November 13, 1953 with licence plate 'B-87.223'. In the following few months the plant's production output and workforce would significally increase together with the implementation of locally made components in the production process, in order to limit imports from one part and from another part to push to the development of the almost non-existent Spanish supplier industry and meet SEAT's assigned key role as the national car maker in restoring the Spanish economy of the post World War II Spain. Already from 1954 the use of Spanish-made parts had raised up to a 93% proportion out of total and next year on May 5, 1955 the factory was officially opened.
In 1957 SEAT founded the SEAT Training Centre in the greater Zona Franca plant area, an institution covering the training of qualified personnel and serving the needs of the automobile industry in specialized technical human resources. In that same year was launched the historical SEAT 600, which proved to be the crucial car that literally motorized Spain, being the first car for many Spanish families and becoming a symbol of the Spanish Miracle.
In 1967, fourteen years after producing cars for the domestic market, SEAT's success would be signalised by a dominant position in Spain ahead of its major competitors, i.e. 'FASA-Renault', 'Citroën-Hispania', Authi and Barreiros, making SEAT the Spain's largest auto-maker in sales numbers and a wholly localized production. In that year an agreement between Fiat and the Spanish Ministry of Industry was reached so as to put an end in the restrictions over exporting SEAT cars out of Spain, a term previewed in the original licencee contract with Fiat since 1948. In exchange to that, Fiat would increase its holding in the company from 7% to 36%, and at the same time the share held by the government holding agency would be reduced from a controlling 51% to 32%. The remaining 32% was taken by the six major Spanish banks, decreased from their previous 42% share split equally in 7% parts owned by every single one of them. Although not a majority owner, Fiat now was seen to control the business: the deal also included various undertakings by Fiat to help in the growth of SEAT, and with the development of a new model (possibly the SEAT 133). On December 6, 1967, SEAT also founded its own customer financing company 'Financiera SEAT, S.A.' (Fiseat).
In 1973, SEAT and 'Citroën-Hispania' jointly contributed equal shares in founding the Vigo-located factory of 'Industrias Mecánicas de Galicia, SA' (Indugasa) producing constant-velocity joints, essential components used in front-wheel drive cars i.e. in a transmission layout the use of which was becoming more and more common at the time. This plant — which in the next years would supply parts not only to SEAT and 'Citroën-Hispania' but also to 'Ford España' — was meant to be transferred later in 1986 to the multinational company GKN.
The end of the co-operation with the Italian firm was marked by a change in SEAT's logo in 1982, and the first car under the new SEAT logo without Fiat involvement appeared in 1982, called the SEAT Ronda styled by Rayton Fissore in collaboration with the Technical Centre in Martorell. The launch of this model though sparked a lawsuit from Fiat against SEAT, as the former claimed the car was too similar to a car in Fiat's range, the Fiat Ritmo. In defence of SEAT, the then president of SEAT, Juan Miguel Antoñanzas, showed a Ronda to the press with all the parts different from the Fiat Ritmo painted in bright yellow, to highlight the differences. The case was eventually taken to the Arbitration Chamber of Paris which in 1983 declared that differences between both cars were important enough so as not to consider the Ronda as a rebadged Ritmo, ending the dispute in favour of SEAT. Rumour at the time had it that Fiat was angry because the Ronda restyling was in fact too close to their own planned restyling for the Fiat Ritmo, which they had to scrap.
SEAT's involvement in motorsport begins back in the '60s with the brand's contribution to the national formula races in Spain and by the end of the same decade the start of its implication to rallies. In 1971, the 'Special Vehicles department' was formed with the mission to enforce the brand's participation in rally championships, followed by 11 titles between 1979 and 1983. The year 1985 was the moment when SEAT Sport was founded as a separate motorsport division and especially since the Volkswagen Group takeover in 1986, SEAT has been increasing even more its presence in the motorsport world, mainly down to VW's plan on focusing the SEAT brand as 'sporty' in order to appeal particularly to the younger generation of drivers. The result of this effort has been rewarded through SEAT's most prestigious titles in FIA championships, three conquests with the SEAT Ibiza Kit-Car in the FIA 2L World Rally Championship (WRC) (1996, 1997, 1998) and two times with the SEAT León in the FIA World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) (2008, 2009).
SEAT's first serious attempt at a World Rally Championship (WRC) was back in the 1977 season when SEAT took part with its 'SEAT 1430/124D Especial 1800' race car, and already in its debut rallying event at the Montecarlo Rally the SEAT team finished in the third and fourth place with the official 1430-1800 cars being driven by Antonio Zanini and Salvador Cañellas. In the recent years the consignment was burdened on the small SEAT Ibiza, a 1.6L normally aspirated front-wheel drive car with its roots in the Volkswagen Polo. The Ibiza allowed the company to further evolve its rallying experience, and was officially engaged in some European national championships. The years went by until a 2L version of the Ibiza was homologated as a kit-car, and extra wide tracks, larger wheels, brakes, etc., were fitted to it as the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) kit-car regulations allow. With these attributes, the car succeeded three times the 2L World Champion ('96, '97, '98), proving its maker had accumulated enough experience, and budgets, to take a chance at the reign category, the World Rally Car class of rallying cars.
In 2004, SEAT with Ray Mallock Ltd. (RML) entered the British Touring Car Championship, running two SEAT Toledo Cupra for former-BTCC Champion Jason Plato, and 2003 León UK Champion, Rob Huff. In 2005, Huff left to join Chevrolet (run by RML in the World Touring Car Championship (WTCC)), and he was replaced by 2004 Leon Champion James Pickford, and Luke Hines as SEAT expanded to three cars, now run by Northern South. 2006 saw the Toledo replaced by the new León, and Darren Turner joined the team with James Thompson when his WTCC commitments allowed. 2007 was SEAT's best year in BTCC, as Plato was locked in a season-long battle with Fabrizio Giovanardi, which came down to the final race of the season, but just missed out on the title.
Since 2005, SEAT has also competed in the World Touring Car Championship, with its first best season being 2007, where a failed water pump robbed Yvan Muller of certain victory at the final meeting in Macau. SEAT became the first team to run a TDI in the WTCC and this gave them a dominant 2008 World Touring Car Championship season, with Yvan Muller wining the drivers championship. French racing team Oreca cooperates with the WTCC team. SEAT's UK team followed suit in the 2008 BTCC. The BTCC team was sponsored by Holiday Inn.
In 2007, SEAT – with the León Mk2 TDI at the Motorsport Arena Oschersleben in Germany – became the first manufacturer to win a round of the World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) series in a diesel car, only a month after announcing it will enter the FIA World Touring Car Championship with the León TDI. SEAT's success with the León TDI was continued, and resulted in winning consecutively 2008 World Touring Car Championship and 2009 World Touring Car Championship both titles (for drivers' as well as for manufacturers').
On 11 September 2008 SEAT UK announced that it was to withdraw from all motor sport activity in the UK at the end of the season. The SEAT Cupra Championship and the SEAT BTCC campaign are to end at Brands Hatch on 21 September. BTCC drivers Jason Plato and Darren Turner have been left without drives for 2009. But Plato will drive for Silverline Chevrolet.
At the opening of the 2009 WTCC, SEAT placed 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th in both races in Brazil. At the second meeting of the WTCC (in Mexico), the SEAT team placed 1st, 4th, 6th, 7th and 11th in the first race. The second race they placed 1st, 3rd, 7th, and 8th. While SEAT may have withdrawn from the BTCC, they are showing impressive results in the WTCC.