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BERLIN (Reuters) - Volkswagen's long-struggling Spanish division Seat expects strong sales this year after deliveries grew by double-digit percentages in the first two months thanks to new models and demand from southern Europe, its chief executive said.
Full availability of the new Ateca sport-utility vehicle introduced in 2016 and the launch of its smaller sibling Arona later this year will drive demand, CEO Luca de Meo said, after Seat's annual sales rose less than 3 percent in 2016 and 2015.
"2017 could be kind of a special year for Seat," de Meo told Reuters on Monday. "We have seen encouraging sales" in the first two months.
Seat's deliveries jumped 17 percent in January to 32,300 cars, parent Volkswagen (VW) said this month, the strongest growth of VW's five main car brands including Audi and Porsche. February sales data has yet to be released.
Seat, bought by VW in 1986, grappled for years with losses caused by under-used capacity at its main plant in Martorell, Spain.
De Meo said Seat, which has traditionally targeted young buyers with sporty compact models, would start as early as next year selling its cars with internet-connected services, including software to route drivers around traffic jams.
To underpin its push into digital services, Seat is wooing experts from technology firms and will open a research lab in Barcelona in April.
The brand will also test car sharing in its home city with electric prototype cars, he said, reflecting efforts by its German parent.
"A new world is opening up for us," de Meo said. "Our young customers put a lot of attention on connectivity."
Reporting by Andreas Cremer; Editing by Mark Potter