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Why Cupra chose Australia to be its first major export market outside Europe


Speaking exclusively with Chasing Cars, Cupra boss Wayne Griffiths reveals the drawcard of the Australian market

It was Australia’s love of performance cars and our relatively youthful national culture that drew Spanish performance brand Cupra to Australia, its global chief says.

Speaking exclusively with Chasing Cars, Wayne Griffiths revealed a number of traits that made Australia suitable to become the first major export market for the Volkswagen Group’s sporty, young brand.

Cupra was once the performance line underneath Catalonian marque SEAT, and the two still share resources out of their Martorell head office – but while the brand has conducted soft launches in Israel and Mexico, it has barely ventured outside Europe. Until now.

Editor Tom Baker sat down with Cupra boss Wayne Griffiths

Sitting down with us in Sydney at Cupra’s first ‘city garage’ retail concept in Australia, some 17,000km from Cupra’s spiritual home, and Griffiths’ adopted base, of Barcelona, we asked “why Australia?”

“There’s no place further away from Barcelona, probably, than Sydney,” Griffiths reflected. “It was a sign of our ambition to go global.”

Antipodean in scale, it’s a ballsy move for the most junior Volkswagen Group brand. Just four years old and brought up in the turbulent years of the coronavirus pandemic, Cupra is kicking goals internally – being awarded the plum job of developing the Group’s crucial MEB-21 affordable electric car platform.

Cupra boss Wayne Griffiths

Still, the cultural background, institutions and customer base of other Volkswagen Group brands in Australia likely make this move a smoother one than transplanting Cupra to China or Japan first – though such destinations are thought to be on the agenda.

Australia is the test case – can Cupra, a brand deliberately and tightly wrapped up in Barcelona culture – work on the other side of the world? Local chief Ben Wilks and product guru Jeff Shafer have been tasked by Griffiths with shepherding the project locally.

Griffiths says he’ll be monitoring their progress with detailed interest.

2022 Cupra Formentor going through water
The Cupra Formentor is one of several new models in Australia

“We’ll be following up very closely. We are here today – not only me as CEO of the company, but also my vice president for sales and marketing, my vice president for technical development – so all of us as a team are committed to making Australia a success.”

Pressed on what the metrics for success look like, Griffiths – and his team – were remarkably candid: a volume of 7000 cars by 2025 across a range of five or seven models.

The middle of the decade will see Cupra expand on its launch lineup of the Leon small car, Ateca small SUV, Born EV hot hatch and Formentor sports-SUV with a new Terramar midsize SUV – the brand’s last combustion-powered model.

2022 Cupra Leon hot hatch grey - rear 3/4 dynamic shot
The Cupra Leon is another key product from the brand for Australia

Further supplementing the range around 2025 will be a Tavascan electric coupe-SUV sharing components with the Volkswagen ID5, plus Cupra’s crown jewel: the Urban Rebel electric hatch sitting atop the MEB-21 platform the brand is developing in-house, on behalf of Volkswagen and Skoda.

“Our measure of success, obviously, will be sales. It is important that Cupra becomes a relevant brand, quickly, in Australia – but more importantly for me…is that it hits a nerve with the new generation of Australian car-lovers,” Griffiths said.

“It’s important that Cupra really does generate interest and desirability among this segment.”

Cupra badge 2022
The Cupra badge will become more recognisable with time

The brand believes it can start to build up the golden annual sales figure of 7000 cars with its four-strong launch lineup – but the second phase promising two bigger SUVs, one electric and one with hybrid powertrains, will bring Cupras to more segments Australians are shopping in.

“It is a two-phase approach,” Griffiths explained. “The first phase will gain some ground. Then, in 2025, when the second phase of the product offensive kicks in with the Terramar – that’s will be big for Australia.”

Griffiths also sees the growth of the fully-electric segment in Australia as a further indicator of Cupra’s ability to succeed locally.

2022 Cupra range at the track
The current Cupra range for the Australian market

“We also believe that in the medium- to long-term, Australia will be a [strong] market for battery-electric vehicles and for plug-in hybrid cars.”

To that end, Cupra will introduce its Born electric hatchback in early 2023 with a target price of between $60,000-$70,000. The Leon- or Golf-sized Born uses Volkswagen’s pre-existing MEB electric car platform feeding a rear motor with 170kW of power, while promising a WLTP range of around 500km.

In 2022 terms, the forthcoming Urban Rebel should cost closer to $35,000 in Australia. It’s a Polo-sized hatchback that will offer around 150kW of power in top-shelf trim while promising 400km of range.

Cupra Born 2022-6
The Cupra Born is coming to Australia soon!

Griffiths was instrumental in securing support for Cupra to build the Urban Rebel on a Cupra-led platform in Spain.

Within the Volkswagen Group, Cupra was conceived not only to be a performance brand sitting between mainstream and premium pricing, but also to be a pointed challenger to new brands like Tesla, Polestar, and BYD, Griffiths says.

“We don’t want to copy, and if you try and benchmark against other brands, you end up becoming like them,” he says.

“I think we are unique enough to stand for what we are and what we want to do. I think Cupra should be the contemporary brand in the Volkswagen Group, the challenger brand, and the brand for a new generation.”

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