Cupra CEO on electrifying the world and disrupting EVs
“Rebel with a cause” is the term often associated with the CEO of Seat and Cupra. A quick glance at his LinkedIn reveals that Wayne Griffiths is not your usual business leader. He’s a vehement fan of David Bowie, despises suits and ties and is almost always seen sporting jeans and a leather jacket.
Griffiths grew up in Manchester and developed a love for vehicles washing cars at his father’s dealership. After studying German and International Management at Leeds University, he left the UK with a goal in mind. “It wasn’t a premium brand then, but Audi had an ambition of becoming a global brand. I turned up at their Ingolstadt office in my Ford Fiesta, with no money, and basically said, ‘You need to hire me.’” The timing was perfect and that was the start of Griffith’s 25 years at the company. He had numerous roles in sales and marketing in the company and was a key part of making the brand what it is today.
Watch our exclusive interview with Wayne Griffiths
In 2016, Luca de Meo, who was recently named the most influential and successful person within the global automotive industry by Autocar UK, brought Griffiths over to Seat as Vice President of Sales and Marketing. “I remember the first management meeting I attended,” Griffiths recalls, “I said ‘I know you guys think I’m just one of these German guys who will be here for a few years and go back to Audi or VW, but that is not the case.’ I knew I was here to stay, and I knew that it was my destiny.”
Something was missing from the company’s agenda that became evident in early discussions that Griffiths had with de Meo: electric. When people started to take to the streets about climate change, that’s when companies around the world really started to take notice. Launching a new brand in the automotive world, when your parent company is one of the largest manufacturers on the planet, is no easy feat. That’s exactly what Griffiths did when he sold the idea for Cupra to the management of the Volkswagen Group.
Although there were sceptics, Griffiths could see what was coming. “This shift from combustion cars to electric cars is allowing a lot of new brands to enter the market,” he says. “When you’re going through disruption, you need to disrupt yourself or you’re going to disappear.” He attributes a lot of this change to the attitudes of the next generation: “I think this generation is looking for something different. They want to drive something different than what their parents or grandparents did, something that stands for their values. The old values of prestige, tradition, status, and luxury; these are all taboo. They’re looking to define themselves with contemporary values, sustainability, and emotion.”
Global electric vehicle sales have increased over 5 times compared to 2018 levels according to industry figures show, and Cupra is a brand on the rise in a competitive market. It’s one of Europe’s fastest-growing automotive brands and has sold 450,000 vehicles since its creation in 2018. There are over 500 Cupra garages worldwide and sales between January and September 2023 are up 55.1% compared to the same period last year, with sales up over 78% in the UK alone. What has been the key to Cupra’s success to date? Griffiths says it’s down to two key things: authenticity and coherence: “The only way to get authenticity and coherence is through your people. If you have the wrong people, you can have the best strategy and the best process, but it will never work.”
In September, Rishi Sunak announced that the Government would push its proposed ban on new petrol and diesel car sales from 2030 to 2035. The move was criticised far and wide, from climate advocates and within the automotive industry, but Griffiths isn’t sure that a ban is the right approach in the first place: “At UK-level or European-level, I don’t think you can force consumers behaviour to change by prohibition. To change people’s behaviour, you need to incentivise them.”
As the chair of the Spanish Association of Automobile and Truck Manufacturers, Griffiths has been pushing the Spanish Government to create achievable objectives to reduce emissions. “We need to give the consumers and customers a reason for buying or, at least, take away their doubts around zero emission cars. We need a public charging infrastructure and make affordable vehicles that are a smart buy.”