Could Be The Most Sensible Family Car Ever
Using Old Audi A4 Engineering Slashes Development Costs
For upmarket car for mass market money
Against bland looks, “old” technology
The SEAT Exeo may look eerily familiar to you because it is an old Audi A4 thinly disguised. But it could also be the most intelligent car you ever bought. You can have premium quality at Ford Mondeo prices.
VW’s Audi, Toyota’s Lexus, to a lesser extent Mercedes, but excluding BMW, use cheap components hidden from the buyer’s prying eyes from their Golfs, Camrys and Mercedes Sprinter vans to cut the cost of their luxury products. BMW does it too really. It doesn’t own a mass car maker, but it does buy engines from Peugeot, and other bits and prices like ABS braking systems and high tech gearboxes that are shared with other manufacturers. The fact that the Exeo is pretty much an Audi, doesn’t automatically mean its quality is better than average, because, arguably, the only thing superior about the Audi compared with something bog-standard, is that Audi buyers have been persuaded to pay more because of the badge.
SEAT of Spain, owned by Volkswagen, wanted to expand its model range into bigger, more expensive territory. Now this is a mighty expensive exercise normally, but the pointy heads in Wolfsburg, Germany, home of VW, had a neat idea. Instead of junking all that valuable equipment used to make the old A4 when it was replaced by the new one, why not pack up it and move it on down to Spain, put it back together again, start up the production line and call what rolls off the end a SEAT Exeo?
What might have cost up to €1billion to develop could be accomplished at a fraction of the cost. The chances of cannibalisation would be remote because the bodywork looks a bit dull now and Audi buyers who willingly pay massively over the odds just for the badge won’t be tempted because SEAT is such a neutral brand.
But is the Exeo any good?
The Multitronic gearbox, a constantly variable setup, means in theory that the engine is always attempting to operate at its most efficient. But if you move the gear selector sideways, the CVT becomes a seven-speed pre-programmed gear box, which can be selected via the steering wheel mounted paddles, or the gear selector. Very impressive.
The SEAT blurb about the car will crack you up.
“The merest glance at the exterior of the new car reveals elegant, subtle, well-proportioned lines. The chassis of the new Exeo also clearly bears the hallmark of the brand’s DNA. There’s a sophisticated multi-link suspension system front and rear while SEAT’s new vehicle features bespoke Agile Chassis spring and damper settings that provide a sporty, dynamic performance,” it says.
And this does look like a breathtaking deal, with prices probably up to £8,000 less than what you would have to pay for a current Audi A4 with all the trimmings. But it does beg the question; “how can a badge make such a massive difference in price?” SEAT is doing us a big favour, it seems to me, going down this route, but it does run the risk of backfiring on VW and Audi if the car buying public wises up to the essential con trick that is branding.
It poses a big risk to Audi if its products can be bought in this way. But no doubt Wolfsburg has thought this through too, and concluded that it poses no threat to the upmarket brand.
Neil Winton July 5, 2011
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