Interview: James Muir, SEAT president
SEAT president James Muir has only been in the hot seat at the Spanish brand for two years - but he's determined to make his mark.
Here, in an exclusive interview with Autoblog, he reveals where he thinks the marque has gone wrong in the past and where it is heading.
What do you think has gone wrong at SEAT in the past?
Well, the brand hasn't been consistent. It's chopped and changed its management and maybe tried a little too hard to be different by trying to invent segments that perhaps weren't there.
We haven't done the basics right. We've done some right - Ibiza has definitely ticked the right boxes, Alhambra too. But then there are a number of products in the past where they've missed completely. Altea and the last Toledo attempted to try and create something for SEAT but didn't really know what direction to go. That's why we need a positioning statement and define what the brand ought to be. If you haven't got that then you try this and that and in the end no one really gets it.
So would you say Mii is the start of a new SEAT?
Well it's the start of our product offensive that is coming in 2012. It's a very important statement about how we want to go about positioning the brand. This car is bullseye in the segment. In terms of the proposition we don't need to explain where it fits in the market, who the competitors are, which class it is in. That's all clear. That's what we now have to do consistently with other products. What you will see with the next four new products is a clear, simple message about where it fits. No long explanations will be needed, just three words, not sentences, will be able to explain them.
So what sort of opportunity is Mii for SEAT? Is it the biggest one in the next year?
It's not going to be the biggest going forward, but in terms of the next 12 months it is. It is an incremental product in our range. But the Leon family we will begin to introduce at the end of next year has, in volume terms, a much more significant contribution to make. But for dealers and for us, this is a big and important step for us. Our growth will now be based on product and no marketing bull sh*t.
We hear you've decided the time has come to kill off the famous Auto Emocion slogan - why?
Yes, it's gone. I'm not the kind of person that walks into a company and says everything isn't good, that's not my way, but I looked at Auto Emocion and tried to find out what do people, dealers, and the press think it means. Nobody could explain it to me. It has no substance. We need something that does and have worked hard to define what the right position for SEAT is going forward. We've come up with a new statement "Enjoyneering". It will stick if people get it. It describes what it is we're trying to do and is better than what we had.
What's the feedback been to it?
We've talked to people about it and haven't had any resistance to it. We've had a few who thought it was a shame, but that comes from the fact SEAT had very little to talk about in the past. People thought Auto Emocion worked, and that's why they wanted to keep it, but I don't think it did.
What are your hopes for the UK market?
We need to get a three per cent market share in the UK. That's a sustainable foot print for the brand. The Mii will take us over the 40,000 mark and the other products will take us onwards and upwards to where we need to be, which I think is significantly above 50,000 units (sold a year).
You need a certain number of cars on the road so awareness becomes self-fulfilling. You can't drive awareness simply with advertising - you can spend a lot of money and don't get a lot of return. People have to see our cars on the road.
Finally, what are your thoughts on the Euro crisis?
It will depress the car market, that's for sure. This is the most challenging car environment we will face for the next year or two. It's pretty sh*tty to be honest. But if we can succeed in maintaining our course, improving our results and getting to the end game where we want to be in two years, in more difficult circumstances that were envisaged, then this will be a very fit brand.
The UK isn't as bad as other markets. Germany is much more resilient, France is pretty stable and the UK has got a bit of weakness but it's not so bad. Italy, Spain and Portugal on the other hand are a bloody disaster...