The establishment of the Seat sub-brand Cupra is one of the greatest successes in the industry in recent years. In an interview with auto motor und sport, the CEO of Seat and Cupra, Wayne Griffiths, talks about the rise of the brand, which surprised even him, his five-cylinder coup and the underestimated fun in electric cars.
Griffiths: We got them just because of the challenges. Because without them we would not have managed the transformation so quickly. I'm 56 years old and the son of a car dealer, I've spent my entire life in this industry. But nothing that big happened in the first 52 of them. Although there have always been evolutions in combustion engines and transmissions, we are now facing a technical revolution. As the only new brand within the VW Group, we were able to take advantage of these opportunities. Although the semiconductor crisis also slowed us down: last year we were able to sell around 150,000 Cupra, but it could have been at least 50 percent more. We haven't seen the real potential of Cupra and the Formentor and Born models.
Griffiths: In the beginning we didn't talk much about it, we just did it. At a certain moment you can no longer fly under the radar and have to coordinate certain orders of magnitude and investment decisions. We had supporters for the provocative approach based on the motto: We build cars that not everyone likes - but some love. Despite my beliefs, I am surprised at how much we struck a chord.
Griffiths: In the transition period you have to do both. There are also plug-in hybrids that form a bridge. So we have the challenge of investing in both drive concepts. With the Cupra Terramar, we will be launching an SUV from 2024 that will be available with a new generation of plug-in hybrid drives as well as with combustion engines. At the same time, there is also an electric crossover in the form of the Cupra Tavascan. You have to approach it that way, because not even the entire European market is homogeneous. In the north there is a growing proportion of electrified cars, but in southern Spain we are at ten percent. That applies to the rest of the world anyway. With the exception of the Terramar, Cupra will be a fully electrified brand by 2030.
Griffiths: The Formentor is a dream project for me. When I was Sales Director, I fought for the five-cylinder. My predecessor Luca de Meo said: You can't do that, Audi won't give him away. And even if it does, it will be too expensive and we won't sell anything. But he gave me the chance and it worked.
Griffiths: Our job is to show people who love the Formentor that electric cars don't just stand for renunciation, rationality and boredom. This is exactly where we want to differentiate ourselves as Cupra. We are already successful in design, and in terms of handling, our developers under our Director of Research and Development, Dr. Werner Tietz, working intensively on differentiating the chassis, recuperation, steering, etc., despite similar batteries and motors. My dream is that the Urban Rebel drives like a go-kart.
Griffiths: That's exactly why we're involved in three electric racing series, where you emphasize the sporty character, but you can also learn from the technology. Software and aspects such as recuperation help us to achieve this goal.
Griffiths: The idea of our brand is not complex. We are neither over-tech nor automated. Instead, we want to build awesome cars that are emotional and fun to drive. In addition, we are not looking for compromises. We design cars only for the driver and not for the passenger - all screens are pointed at him. Our products are not, as is so often advertised in the case of autonomous driving, so that you can sleep in them. When I want to sleep, I go to my apartment. A car is for driving and the experience that comes with it.
Griffiths: We are a company with two strong brands that are well separated so that they do not compete with each other. Many people say Cupra could be the end of Seat. My answer is: Cupra will be the future of Seat. But that doesn't mean that the Seat brand is at risk. With differentiation, Seat could play a bigger role in mobility solutions like e-scooters, for example.
Griffiths: This is due to the transition period, but all cars that come now will be pure Cupra. And when you look at other brands, the differentiation will be strong enough. In the future, four or five models will run in parallel, of which we want to sell 100,000 copies each. So we have the substance to carry investments, but also the relevance in the market, i.e. three to five percent. However, top positions in any segment will not drive us. Rather, we want a worldwide presence.
Griffiths: The current generation isn't stupid and smells marketing three miles downwind. We do relatively little advertising for a new brand, but we've sold 300,000 cars in four years. That means: The people who know us think our concept is cool and real. But looking carefully at the future doesn't mean you should be ashamed of driving a sporty car. You can still have fun with electric vehicles. We are committed to ensuring that people have the right to make mobility decisions without a guilty conscience.
Griffiths: I support it when people dream and dreams like the five-cylinder come true. An electric sports car would also go very well with Cupra.
Wayne Griffiths, born in Dukinfield (UK) in 1966, began his career in the family car dealership, where he learned the trade at a young age. After studying German and management in Leeds, he was hired by the Volkswagen Group. After a short interim sprint at Seat, he worked at Audi from 1993 to 2016. In 2016, the sales expert returned to Seat. Griffiths has been CEO of Seat S.A. since 2020. At the same time, he heads the Cupra sports branch, which was founded in 2018 and in which the racing projects are also bundled.