SEAT was formed in 1950, during a time when Spain’s nascent post-war economy was being hindered by a distinct lack of mobility; for every 1,000 Spaniards in 1950 there was only three cars, and the vast majority of those were either motorcycles or micro cars. Spain needed a car manufacturer.
It got one when the Sociedad Espanola de Automoviles Turismo was established with a 600,000,000-peseta loan from a partnership comprising the Spanish Instituto Nacional de Industria and FIAT.
A 20-hectare site in the Zona Franca district of Barcelona was chosen on which to build the new factory, which was completed by the end of 1951. On 5 June 1953 the production line was fired up, and on 13 November of that year the first ever SEAT, a 1400, registration B-87.223, was completed.
The 1400 was built initially to provide luxurious domestic-made transport for Spanish government officials. But such was its impact at its ‘official debut’ at the June 1954 Barcelona Trade Fair, SEAT gathered a whopping 10,000 orders from Spanish up-and-comers, all desperate to go about their business in Spain’s finest.
That popularity came was despite a 121,875-peseta list price – which made it roughly a £35,000 car in today’s money – and the prospect of a very long wait; by the end of 1954, 945 cars had been delivered, and it wasn’t until the end of 1957 that the Zona Franca plant had expanded sufficiently to allow annual production of 10,000 cars from a workforce of 5,000.
From that basis, today’s SEAT is a global carmaker and part of the Volkswagen Group, with VWG having acquired the company in full at the end of 1990. Across three sites (Martorell, Zona Franca and El Prat de Llobregat), SEAT designs, develops and manufactures its range of sporty, high quality, great value cars.
The Martorell production plant is one of the world’s most modern and environmentally efficient: the SEAT al Sol project, completed in 2013, saw the placement of 53,000 solar panels on the roof of Martorell, generating enough electricity to produce 25% of current annual Leon production, and reduce CO2 emissions by 7,000 tonnes per year.
Today SEAT exports more than 80% of its production to 77 countries, and in 2013 the company delivered 355,000 vehicles worldwide – its highest for five years, making it one of the fastest growing brands in Europe.
SEAT UK began trading in September 1985, selling a grand total of 24 cars that month. By the end of 1985, the company had sold 405. From those humble beginnings, SEAT UK has surpassed the 600,000 cars delivered mark, and in 2013 the company enjoyed its best year ever, selling 45,312 for a record 2.0% market share.