Earlier this week we said happy birthday to one car, and now we’re blowing out the candles for an entire automobile company. SEAT turns 60 today. For those who need a refresher, SEAT (say “see yacht”) is a Spanish car company that has never sold a car in the U.S., but that does not mean that Americans are not familiar with some of their vehicles.
SEAT was established in 1950 with help from the government to revitalize Spain after WWII. The name is an acronym for Sociedad Española de Automóviles de Turismo. A startup company like this needed a partner, and Fiat was chosen to help get Spain on wheels (oddly, both SEAT and Fiat are acronyms, but the Spanish company is the only one who has kept the all-caps spelling in modern times.)
A new facility was built in the Zona Franca region of Barcelona, and the first SEAT rolled of the assembly line today in 1953. Their initial offering was the SEAT 1400, a re-badged Fiat 1400. This car was a relatively large sedan, and while sales were healthy, the price of 121,875 pesetas (about £35k/$47k today) was out of reach for many in the home market. Despite the financial drawbacks, the 1400 model did allow was for Spain to enter the world of large-scale manufacturing as seen in the video below:
SEAT would soon leverage its new production knowledge into smaller and more affordable cars such as the 600 model, which copied the Fiat 600, and an 800 model that was a four-door version of the 600 created exclusively by SEAT. The company grew as it helped bring vehicles to the protected home market, and by the late 1960s, it had reached an agreement with Fiat to export cars to other parts of Europe and South America.
The relationship with Fiat fizzled by the early 1980s, and the company went looking for a new partner. Volkswagen purchased a controlling interest in 1986 and then the whole operation outright within five years. SEAT has taken a place within the VW family as slotting below most Volkswagens in price while still offering some spirited driving vehicles. Its current lineup is based on Volkswagen platforms and internal components, but the exterior styling is distinctive.
SEAT has never sold a car in the USA, and they likely never will (the closest this carmaker gets to our boader is Mexico.) The company is firmly in the hands of the VW Group, and any SEAT product will likely eat into the value-minded approach Volkswagen offers over here. That doesn’t mean we may never see a SEAT-built car. For example, the Audi Q3 is produced in their Martorell factory, and when that crossover comes to the USA, it should come direct from SEAT.