We will write the Cupra story when we finish it, at the end – when it’s done, says SEAT boss Wayne Griffiths
WE all know how David Bowie inspired creative types the world over.
He influenced music, film and art. He was a genius.
But I never expected to find out that he’s shaping the future of cars, even after his death.
Wayne Griffiths is the global boss of Seat and Cupra and he lives by the following mantra: “I don’t know where I’m going from here but I promise I won’t bore you.”
If you’ve not heard that one before, that’s classic Bowie.
Griffiths, 55, said: “There are lots of things that motivate me from David Bowie.
"That quote especially. I used it at my 50th birthday.
“There are these smart asses who say, ‘Oh yeah, we have a plan and we know exactly how this is going to pan out’ or, ‘We have our brand strategy and this is going to be like this’.
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“If you write the book before you’ve done the story, then it’s going to be boring because you’re going to base it on experience and past.
“We will write the Cupra story when we finish it. At the end. When it’s done.
“Because if you define before you know where you are exactly going, then you are not going to do anything really cool.
“Bowie was remarkable because he always reinvented himself. He was always contemporary.
"He didn’t do stuff everybody liked, but always there were some people who loved it. I went to so many Bowie concerts at the Birmingham NEC and down to London.”
Now let’s consider the remarkable rise of Cupra.
As little as four years ago Cupra meant go-faster Seat. Like Volkswagen’s GTI or Ford’s ST.
But Griffiths has reinvented Cupra as a standalone brand that’s already winning car “Oscars” for being edgy, cool, provocative and a bit of a rebel.
Griffiths said: “When we do a design presentation, if everybody likes the car, then we’ve done something wrong.
“We want to make cars that stand for something.
“So we may have some people say, ‘I don’t like it. I think it’s too provocative’ or, ‘It goes too far’.
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“But if there are three or four younger people in the room that are our target group, the next generation, with the mindset to say, ‘I love this, this is great,’ then that motivates us to go further.”
The first pure Cupra — not a re-hashed Seat — is the Cupra Formentor.
That has proved a big hit with customers and journos alike, for its bold design and luxury as much as for its blistering real-world performance.
And who doesn’t love that Space Invaders-style copper logo?
The all-electric Cupra Born arrives next, in March, and Griffiths has already confirmed Tavascan, a bigger, battery-powered SUV, will be ready for 2024.
Griffiths and his team are also leading development of a low-cost urban EV for the VW Group.
All versions — for VW, Skoda, Seat and Cupra — will be built in Spain from 2025.
The Cupra UrbanRebel concept is a bit of a stretch with that cartoon rear wing but it does at least give us a glimpse of what’s to come.
Actually, on the subject of wings, Mancunian Griffiths deserves credit for making Cupra fly despite almost two years of hibernation and semiconductor issues.
Sales topped 70,000 last year, 10,000 in the UK, and the boss expects to double that in 2022.
We will write the Cupra story when we finish it. At the end. When it’s done.
He told me: “I said to my team, ‘You can react in one of two ways to this Covid disruption. You can see it as a risk, stand still and try to protect your position, or see it as an opportunity’.
“We saw it as an opportunity — to speed up electrification, which was later in our plans back then, and to launch a new brand.
“Cupra is a new brand. It doesn’t have any heritage. When we launched Cupra three years ago a lot of people said, ‘These guys are crazy’ and, ‘This is just a marketing thing. There isn’t any substance behind it to make this work.’
“It has worked. The only thing we got wrong was the level of our ambition. The volumes are huge.
“We think the next generation of mobility users are looking for different solutions.
“Not only in terms of mobility, paying for mobility, and not owning cars, but also looking for new brands.
"You can see it with the incredible success of a lot of the emerging new brands in the electric era.
"Tesla, obviously, but you see what Nio is doing, Polestar, Lynk & Co, a lot of them from China.
"I think the next generation of customer is looking for new answers, which could be a new brand as well, and looking for a different brand to what their grandfathers or father have driven, and a brand that can give them something that’s not just heritage or prestige, a brand that can say something about what they stand for as a person.”
An example of that is the reclaimed sea plastics used in Cupra Born.
Griffiths said: “If you live in Spain and go to the beach, you see all the plastic bottles that get washed up from the sea.
“To know that we are taking these plastic bottles out of the sea to recycle them for the seats of our Born, that makes the car really special.
When we do a design presentation, if everybody likes the car, then we’ve done something wrong.
“It gives people a good feeling. Not only does the car look great, not only is it zero emissions, you’re doing something good for the environment with the recycled content.
“On top of that, we wanted to show with Born that electric cars are not just rational things, they can be sexy and attractive and fun to drive.”
There’s lots of other cool stuff to come from Cupra.
Griffiths hinted at subscription services, sport and gig tickets for “Cupra Tribe” members and something else I promised I wouldn’t mention for now.
Griffiths said: “I like the idea of a brand world. We are looking at other products as well as just cars for Cupra.”
We like Griffiths. He’s a maverick. He’s not had a Cupra tattoo, like one of his lieutenants, but he’s certainly not boring.
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