BARCELONA -- Volkswagen Group's Seat unit unveiled its first SUV, the Ateca, as the brand seeks to benefit from booming demand for high-riding vehicles.
The Ateca will expand Seat's lineup to cover 80 percent of Europe's auto market, up from 50 percent now. The compact SUV will be the Spanish brand's third pillar, together with the Leon compact hatchback and the Ibiza subcompact, CEO Luca de Meo said at the SUV's unveiling here on Wednesday.
"Our first SUV marks the start of a new era for Seat," he said. "Moreover, the arrival of the SUV will be a key contributor to our brand image improvement. That is our key challenge," said de Meo, who moved to Seat's top job from his previous post as Audi's sales and marketing chief on Nov. 1.
Seat has lost money for years and needs to increase its sales volume to become consistently profitable. The brand sees big growth opportunities with the Ateca, which goes on sale in the spring. Industrywide SUV sales are forecast to rise by 25 percent in western Europe in the midterm, de Meo said.
The CEO declined to discuss sales forecasts for the Ateca, but he hopes the SUV will achieve a market share of at least 5 percent in the compact SUV segment, which would mean annual European sales of about 60,000 units. European compact SUV sales increased 14 percent last year compared with 2014 to an all-time high of 1.18 million, according to data from JATO Dynamics.
The Ateca is one of three all-new Seat models due in the next 18 months. The others are the next-generation Ibiza and a subcompact SUV. The three models will help to make Seat "constantly profitable," de Meo said.
The Ateca shares VW Group's MQB architecture with the VW Tiguan, Europe’s No. 2-selling compact SUV after the Nissan Qashqai.