Seat Ibe

Of the numerous Volkswagen Group brands, Spain's Seat ("SAY-ott") is the runt of the litter. It operates at a loss -- and usually has since VW took control in 1986, not long after Fiat had cut its own costly ties with Seat. There's nothing wrong with Seat cars. They're VWs and Audis under the skin, and those skins are not bad. Giugiaro even had a hand in some, but they rarely sold as well as required for profitability.

Seat's profit problems have consumed the careers of many top executives, Spanish and German alike, but it hasn't been as hard on designers. Upon joining VW from Alfa Romeo, Walter de'Silva headed Seat design before moving to Audi and then leading the whole of VW Group design. In fact, when he hired de'Silva, Ferdinand Piech had wanted Seat to become Alfa Romeo in sporting purpose, although he has now decided to try to buy the real thing.

I've known Luc Donckerwolke, Seat's design chief today, since he was a student. He cut a brilliant path through the VW Group, doing great work at Škoda, another VW acquisition that -- like Seat -- makes good German-engineered cars at lower prices. His success there earned him a move to Italy for Lamborghini, where he headed the team that concocted the Gallardo. I suggested at the time that he'd perhaps had more assistance than needed [Design Analysis, September 2003], but the grand lines were his. Donckerwolke wondered what he'd done wrong when he was sent to Spain. The answer: nothing. He'd done his job too well, and VW wanted him to fix Seat. It's not quite done yet, but this electric concept car tells us that the next generation of Seats, based as they will be on this car's themes, will be very well-designed and will offer astonishing value.

The IBE is approximately the size and packaging equivalent of the 1970s VW Scirocco, but it's more aerodynamic and much safer (for occupants and pedestrians alike). With the best VW Group engines, it would likely be highly sought after. Remember that Audi, Škoda, and Seat all share VW platform engineering, tuned to the requirements of a specific market. Yes, they compete with each other, but that's OK as long as the cars look really different, unlike the old GM's infamous Fortune cover cars. The key is keeping separate design studios where the cars are made, then hiring really good designers and turning them loose with the fixed hard points. One has to wonder where GM would be today if engineering had stayed in Warren but styling was dispersed to Detroit, Flint, Lansing, and Pontiac.

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"GM's infamous Fortune cover cars"???I'm not familiar with this infamous reference. Can someone enlighten me? I have searched the covers of Fortune magazines from the '80s and can't find anything regarding GM.

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