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What Will CUPRA Bring to the Car Market?

What Will CUPRA Bring to the Car Market?


This year sees the arrival of some new brands such as CUPRA and Polestar, but getting them right is not easy, as many have discovered. John Swift looks at what a brand means and why some just can’t seem to get it right.

Will the car brands that launch this year succeed?

This year sees the arrival of some new brands such as CUPRA and Polestar, but getting them right is not easy, as many have discovered.  John Swift looks at what a brand means and why some just can’t seem to find the right formula, but, why he believes CUPRA has an excellent chance of getting it right.

A good, strong brand is a mix of a set of expectations and trust that in 99.9% of cases what the buyer wants, is what the seller will deliver.

Someone going into a McDonalds, buying a Rolex watch, choosing an Apple product or relying on a delivery by Amazon knows that what they want, is exactly what they’ll get; they know that because the brand keeps its promises, it serves up what it says it will and crucially, it does that every time, all the time.

A strong brand is one that has known qualities and is reliable; a business which gets that right can charge a premium for their goods or services.

As it happens, the world’s strongest brand is Italian supercar maker, Ferrari. In the latest Brand Finance Global 500 2019 report launched at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Ferrari was given a Brand Strength Index (BSI) score of 94.8 out of 100, putting it ahead of McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Lego, and Disney.

Ferrari logo on red bonnet

In the world of cars brands take different forms.

The likes of Ferrari, Rolls-Royce or Bentley are perceived as stand-alone manufacturers, charging a premium for always providing the highest levels of luxury and performance, a degree of exclusivity and that indefinable, hard-to-put-your-finger-on ‘special’ feeling every time you slip behind the wheel. That’s what buyers expect and that’s what car companies such as these, deliver.

But, some of the more mainstream manufacturers take a different tack and do very well building specialist versions of their standard cars. Think of Renault’s self-explanatory and accurately named Renaultsport, the Ford RS or Vauxhall VXR ranges, Audi’s RS or BMW’s M Series cars which are all high-performance versions of standard models be they hatchback, saloon, SUV, or estate. These sit alongside more standard cars in the same showroom, but have very different characteristics.

Red Audi RS 6 moving at speed through mountain roads

It is a tried and tested formula and by and large, it works.

But, then there are some mainstream manufacturers who want greater separation, to emphasise that their specialist cars are so different, they should be considered a make on their own, even though they share many components with the standard models. They have different names, different badges and often are even sold from different showrooms, but this is a much tougher nut to crack, as several have discovered.

Toyota has got it right with its upmarket Lexus division, as has Fiat with its hard edged, very sporty Abarth range, UK registrations for the marque jumped up by 27% last year.

But, others struggle. For example, Nissan has its Infiniti brand which aims at a far more upmarket sector than its own-badged cars, but sales are, well, to put it nicely, slow. In 2018 its UK registrations dropped by almost 80% as just 750 new cars found buyers and it’s not difficult to find several other examples like it.

It’s into this sector that this year we’ll see the arrival of CUPRA. What is it and how will it fare?


CUPRA badged SEATs are not new, the moniker is a shortened version of `Cup Racing’, telling you that these are sporty versions of the standard cars. But, now CUPRA is taking that many levels higher, with parent brand, SEAT, believing that the degree of difference is so big that CUPRA should be considered a brand in its own right.

CUPRA models will offer a combination of luxury, power, sports styling and handling, connectivity and comfort which goes beyond the parent SEAT brand. SEAT says the new brand stands for `Uniqueness, Sophistication and Performance’.

CUPRA Ateca with the new CUPRA logo on the grille

Like Abarth, in an effort to retain exclusivity, CUPRA will be sold from a few, specially chosen dealerships and the first model gives a hint of what’s to come.

The CUPRA Ateca takes SEAT’s well-known SUV and adds a hi-tech 300 PS engine, a 7- speed gearbox, with quicker gearshifts, a sportier exhaust note and modified suspension. The look too is more emphatic with a front and rear diffuser, gloss black highlights, four exhaust tailpipes and 19 inch diamond cut alloys. The interior is similarly enhanced with Alcantara, CUPRA badging, some carbonfibre trim and the connectivity systems are up there with the best on the market.

The Ateca is the first model, but CUPRA is already working on design exercises of the Arona and Ibiza and in March will use the Geneva Motor Show to unveil LEON Cupra R ST, the ultimate performance version of this popular model and one which will make the link between the road cars and the manufacturer’s TCR racing cars all the more obvious.

So why do we think CUPRA will fare better than, say, Infiniti?

Well, for one thing the SEAT and the CUPRA names are both very well known and have a good, strong brand image already. The second is that CUPRA models are much more than just a collection of items from the options list that could be added to other SEATs. The Ateca has been developed as a whole to look and feel different and deliver the exhilaration and driving fun allied to a sophisticated interior and this will be the theme for the entire CUPRA range.

It is having that platform to build on, the visibility of the SEAT brand and its established CUPRA badge, that makes me believe CUPRA has a very good chance of success.

Matt grey CUPRA ATeca on a beautiful coast roadAnd it is not just me saying I believe CUPRA has found the right formula for success.

Just a few weeks after it was launched the CUPRA Ateca has won the inaugural Sports SUV of the Year category at the 2019 What Car? Awards. Judges praised it for its performance, fun factor, its style inside and out and with its £35,900 list price its value for money because it costs thousands of pounds less than rivals of similar power and spec.

Steve Huntingford, Editor, What Car? said: “CUPRA has managed to produce a car that’s every bit as fun to drive as more expensive rivals, despite undercutting them by thousands of pounds. In terms of smiles per mile, it's unsurpassed in the SUV market.”

Not a bad start for a new brand…