The Exeo was an attempt at a D-segment offering on the cheap, but was the joke on SEAT?
Perhaps Erich Schmitt’s leylines and shakras had swirled his vision akin to adding milk to a caffeine drink. Internally known as the Bolero, the public knew the car as the Exeo (ex-ay-o) – a Latin derivation of exire meaning to Go Beyond. Herr Schmitt certainly did that.
Installed as Sociedad Espanola de Automobiles de Turismo president in 2006 under strict instructions from Ferdinand Piëch to inject some much needed gusto into VW’s Spanish branch, Schmitt foresaw a bold plan to assuage his boss – the re-use of an older model. Rarely a European consideration, older models are either shelved or positioned in some far flung location with their build licence encouraging monetary growth from afar. Schmitt’s vision was to use the B7 version of the Audi A4 on the PL46 platform.
Toes were not to be trodden on, mind. The Exeo was billed as the Spanish answer to le Quément’s Laguna, the Henry’s Mondeo and most definitely not the concurrent A4 or Passat with their handsome sales figures.
In a move which today seems overly confident if not extreme, back in late 2008 must have garnered gasps of incredulity. A convoy of 1,150 lorries along with dozens of support vehicles carried the entire dismantled A4 B7 production line from Ingolstadt to Martorell, thirty kilometres north west from Barcelona in preparation for a March 2009 launch. A logistical tour de force over some 1,500 kilometres.
As the line merely required bolting back together in its new, sunnier climes, new Exeos were in production right on time – the prediction materialised. As a previously known quantity, the SEAT saloon appeared on solid ground – proven build quality, reliable powertrains and some added Spanish flair – what could possibly go wrong?
Styling differences between the two cars were minimal; the world and his wife knew the car was the outgoing A4, thus the nose and tail became de-Audified, with contentious outcomes. To the sides, the door mirror mounts had been relocated revealing a slightly awkward curve at the foot of the A pillar. Inside saw changes of equally small beer – a new dashboard came courtesy of the provider B7 generation A4 cabriolet version – identified by the circular opposed to oblong air vents. Here ends the re-styling story. Recycling has never looked so familiar.
Schmitt lauded the Exeo as a D-segment motor for drivers of a sporting nature with a starting price tag of a not inconsiderable six thousand euros cheaper than an equivalent A4. Initially the five seater, four door saloon was available in Reference, Stylance and Sport trims for mainland European drivers under code Typ 3R5. The U.K. had the prosaic S, SE, SE-LUX, etc as per Czech brethren, Škoda. August brought about 3R9 in estate or Sports Tourer flavour all powered by three petrol and two diesel from the VW engine department .
May 2010 saw those mills refined along with some handy trophies to nudge Erich’s crystal ball towards the shelf edge. Namely, Switzerland awarded the Exeo their Golden Steering Wheel – upper medium sedan section. Germany’s Company Car 2009 went to the ST whereas Finland went one better with magazine, Tuulilasi administering the full CoTY gong. For reasons your author could not ascertain, one somewhat tongue in cheek award was offered by the Catalonia region for Novelty CoTY. Was the Exeo so reviled?
With big hype, bigger hyperbole and clairvoyant predictions stated, the road tests proved, in the UK at least, highly commendable. Commensurate with acknowledged traits, the press’ usual suspects heaped praise on the car for not only its engines but driveability alongside fleet friendly characteristics. Your author remembers a tiny column buried within Autocar’s data section where the unknown user of a diesel Exeo extolled the virtues of the machine on his mega mileage weekly schleps. Of course at that time, diesel and its high MPG figures were king but crowns topple as easily as predictions fail.
Attractively priced, interesting looks – sales in the doldrums. An outcast the Exeo had become where the car remained for its brief, non-tumultuous life. In the cars launch year, just 348 saloons and only 21 ST’s were sold. The following twelve months saw those figures leap to almost 23,000, fourteen thousand of such being the saloon. Peak combined sales lurked at a soupçon over 23,000 for 2010, the next year floundering around 20,000 and in its final, breathless year, a little under eleven thousand were made.
Not only the crystal ball had shattered. The car’s depreciation was massive but do badge and snob values add to the Exeo’s indignities? Probably so. Purchasers were desirous of the four chrome ringed circles and their orders forwarded there or to their Wolfsburg partners for their new models. Whilst known, the Exeo became unknown, anonymous to the point of being invisible. The car’s only momentum appears to have been when being transported from Germany to Spain. The lacklustre image denting the whole project with clearly little investment sealed the cars fate. It would seem few mourned the Exeo’s demise.
Remaining UK examples are seldom witnessed. Observed as a savvy used purchase by the trade counts for little almost ten years on since manufacturing ceased. Those available hover around the 4-5k price bracket, looking somewhat careworn regardless of upkeep and use.
Another car industry gamble that failed, taking with it untold millions. One cannot help but wonder at Schmitt’s vision; should the planets have aligned a better way, perhaps we would be discussing here the veritable wundermove of his, the Exeo now brand leader outselling home grown saloons and the latest Exeo diversification into the class leading urban cross-over sales charts. Damn, this car-boot sale bought glass ball is good!
As for Erich Schmitt, his role as CEO of SEAT was only part time. Subsumed in the VW empire, times and roles bifurcate. Soon after the Exeo debacle ended, he stepped down due to health reasons. Perhaps Herr Piëch had used his clairvoyant powers to spirit Schmitt away? Guessing games can be very expensive. Let’s all drink to the death of a clown.