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An interview with Seat development boss Axel Andorff (2020)

Interview with Seat Development Director Axel Andorff
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Nach the resignation of Luca de Meo: Who is your boss right now?

A ndorff: Luca did a great job and is also extremely fine as a person - he was the one who brought me here. We wish him all the best. Now the previous Seat CFO Carsten Isensee is my boss. Carsten has a huge vision and a lot of experience. In development, in production and in design we all have a clear direction of where we want to go - and that fits in well with Carsten's overall picture.

When you were in March 2019 came to Seat after 20 years at Daimler, what was completely different?

Andorff: It starts with you getting on the plane in Stuttgart and landing in Barcelona (laughs). And then you drive to Seat and notice that working here reflects the lifestyle in Barcelona. It has nothing to do with easy going: it's professional, but it's not cramped. And we are heavily involved in VW group activities, which bring with them a huge pool from which to draw. That also surprised me: How many people from the VW Group have already been here. You hardly meet anyone who has not yet been here: Be it Porsche boss Oliver Blume, VW brand director Jürgen Stackmann or VW COO Ralf Brandstätter. It is also nice for me as a developer to be responsible for the entire development. Seat is developing well at the moment, but it won't be a home run: 2020 will be brutally difficult for everyone.

Why is it so difficult?

Andorff: The markets are no longer on the upswing and CO2 is an important issue. These are huge challenges for us. I prefer to be part of a team like here, where you approach the matter with a positive attitude.

What did you experience in your first year at Seat?

Andorff: In addition to the team spirit, there is an extreme focus. We cannot play “jack of all trades”, but have to look very carefully where we are using our resources. We also try things out, build models, do market analyzes - but we are very focused in what we do.

With Mercedes you come from a brand that has a lot of tradition and has a clear image. Seat's tradition is nowhere near as easy to recognize from a German perspective. What image does Seat have for you and how can you continue to do that?shape?

Andorff: There were two foreign car brands that I always noticed in Germany - one of them was Seat, and that is still the case today. There was always something there that made the cars attractive to me. On the other hand, a brand like this is not a sure-fire success; you have to keep fueling it, for example with a new design language. They have to do brand building, and Seat Marketing Director Wayne Griffiths is doing a hell of a job with Cupra right now. The product content is also part of the care and maintenance of the brand, otherwise it will eventually become fake. That's our job, and then something like the new Leon comes out.

On the role of Seat in the VW Group using the example of the new Leon: It has a larger wheelbase again get - is the brand's sporty image now weakening again?

Andorff: There are good reasons to make a car bigger - the people and the segments are growing. But of course I have to look carefully at what kind of impact that has. Agility, lateral acceleration and handling were extremely important to me. It definitely has to be excellent again, otherwise we didn't do our job right. The delimitation of the brands is very important to us internally and certain overlaps cannot be avoided. However, we describe our customer milieu clearly - every brand has a certain task. The task of Seat is to appeal to the young clientele with a fresh, sporty design, which might be too progressive for customers of other brands.

The VW Group manages a lot Construction kits - what else do you have in your hand as Head of Development at Seat?

Andorff: At VW, we have a well-organized machinery, with very clear controls and a lot of coordination . This is very costly, but you achieve economies of scale and can afford things that Seat could never afford alone. Another advantage is that you get a high degree of maturity with new developments. And if something threatens to get out of hand, the other brands are there. Three /four calls to VW in Wolfsburg, to Audi in Ingolstadt, to Skoda in Mladá Boleslav or to us here in Martorell, and you have the right experts with a lot of development power.

VW delivers a lot of technology that has its price. How does Seat manage to be cheaper than VW?

Andorff: You always have to look where the price differences come from. We have a couple of advantages: On the one hand, there are the slightly lower hourly development rates, we can also buy certain things cheaper and we do some things differently. For me, however, looking outside is much more important: we have to focus on competitors who are outside the VW Group. Seat currently has high conquest rates - externally, not from within the groupBrands.

You are again offering the new Leon in a version with a natural gas drive - is it even worth it?

Andorff: I always compare it with a share portfolio: I don't put everything on one card, but diversify my investments because I don't want to rely on one thing. It's similar with natural gas: On the one hand, you have markets where it's incredibly attractive - this includes Italy and our home market here in Spain. On the other hand, you don't want to rely on just one type of drive. There are customers who want natural gas - and we offer that to them, even if we might earn a little less with it. I don't want to say that we will still be a leader when it comes to natural gas in 2050, but in the medium term the CNG drive is simply part of it for us.

Power of the modular electrification kit MEB makes it easier or more difficult to differentiate Seat from the other VW brands?

Andorff: For me, this is comparable to the previous vehicles: You get a highly mature platform and you bet take care of it by using different differentiation options. For me it is important that this platform is designed entirely for electric drive and not, as with some competitors, a hybrid solution. At the Geneva Motor Show 2019, with the El Born electrical study, we showed that we can achieve a differentiation based on the MEB that the customer is very sympathetic to. Similar to the Leon, we also create customization there, for example through the design, interior and the HMI (human-machine interface, editor's note). What the customer perceives is what we can individualize.

Where do you see Seat in five years?

Andorff: We now have the new Leon, we are bringing the Formentor SUV coupé, the electrically powered El Born and the Tavascan electric sports car. Then we expand our portfolio and also bring something to the Cupra corner. When I look at my calendar like that - I definitely won't get bored.

VW boss Herbert Diess urges the entire group to be more courageous and agile. What does that mean for Seat?

Andorff: We won't be able to avoid implementing the topic of car software organization. For me this is a very central topic. We have to implement this properly because it not only makes the difference in terms of customer offerings, but also in terms of independence and in terms of the features that we can offer customers. Then you can of course also play different interfaces and then you are also more flexible when it comes to different apps. But that doesn't mean for me that we're throwing everything else overboard. We havedefinite advantages, even if they are rapidly melting at the moment, in classic automobile construction - we have to maintain them. We are constantly optimizing this. Then the question is, how can we turn change into business? We also have to use the car software organization to develop new business models. That's a huge feat - at VW we have to take 600,000 to 700,000 people with us. At the Global Board Meeting in Berlin at the beginning of the year, it wasn't about whether we can make a change, but rather how we can do it best and how do we do it quickly.

What is your impression: What does VW boss Herbert Diess particularly like about Seat?

Andorff: Herbert Diess is not only VW boss, but also our supervisory board chairman - Seat has yes its own supervisory board. I think he likes the way we work and how we do things with manageable resources. One example is the Tavascan electric sports car that we showed at the IAA in Frankfurt - it is no coincidence that it comes from Martorell. For myself, I try to strengthen my team by putting it together heterogeneously. You must of course have a clear focus. But when different actors follow this approach, it makes the team strong. Herbert Diess likes the team. He likes what the team does, but you can be sure: He has enough challenges for us.


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