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Frankfurt show: Skoda’s ‘Rapid’ small car

On a mission: The Ford Focus-sized Skoda Rapid is previewed by the MissionL liftback concept.

Skoda’s MissionL-based concept set to reach Australia in 2012, badged ‘Rapid'

Skoda logo13 Sep 2011

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

SKODA’S all-new small car previewed by the MissionL concept in Frankfurt this week is expected to be called the ‘Rapid’ and will play a key role in doubling the Czech brand’s sales over the next seven years.

GoAuto understands the crucial C-segment model will enter production soon, with a home-market launch slated before the end of the year ahead of a global rollout during 2012 – which will include Australia.

To sit above the Fabia light car, which will be launched at the end of this month in Australia, the Rapid’s dimensions put it at about Mitsubishi CJ Lancer Sportback size and closely mirror those of the previous-generation Octavia (1U) that was launched in 1996 and based on the 1997-2003 Volkswagen Golf IV.

Though the old Octavia was superseded by the current Golf V-derived 1Z version from 2004 that spearheaded Skoda’s 2007 relaunch in Australia, it actually remains on sale as the value proposition Octavia Tour in a number of markets worldwide.

This means that the Rapid may replace the 15-year-old Tour, and will almost certainly also include a wagon variation somewhere down the track – although whether it is a regular style ‘estate’ or a crossover wagon in the style of the Renault Scenic remains a mystery.

29 center imageThe Rapid’s generous sizing – with interior space that should eclipse that of the Toyota Corolla’s – also adds weight to rumours that the next-generation Octavia due in 2013 or 2014 will be a proper medium-sized model to take on the Ford Mondeo and Toyota Camry.

In Frankfurt this week, Skoda senior management would not comment on the Rapid’s underpinnings, but it is believed that a stretched version of the existing Polo’s platform will be the architecture lurking underneath, rather than the more advanced Golf structure.

The obvious donor vehicle for Skoda within the Volkswagen Group is the Vento – essentially a Polo sedan with a longer (2552mm versus 2456mm) wheelbase. It was launched earlier this year and has been well received.

Front-wheel drive and conventional underpinnings such as a MacPherson strut front/rear torsion beam suspension will help keep the Czech newcomer competitive in the hotly contested and extremely price-sensitive lower end of the small-car segment, against the likes of the Hyundai i30 – the second generation of which was also unveiled at Frankfurt this week.

Not surprisingly, the Rapid will also include a three-box four-door sedan sibling that will be manufactured and launched in India before the end of this year, in order to take on inexpensive rivals such as the big-selling, Australian-developed Ford Figo, along with the Honda City, Hyundai Verna (Accent) and Maruti Suzuki SX4.

It is thought the Skoda will be built alongside the Vento.

Interestingly, Autocar India has reported that the Rapid sedan may adopt a different nameplate to the hatch to underline the different body shape, although the ‘Lauretta’ badge that is being bandied about will not be used, according to one Skoda source.

Perhaps the ‘L’ in MissionL led to such speculation, although that probably refers to the German word for ‘Limousine’.

Rapid is a famous name in Skoda’s pre-Volkswagen history, referring to rear-engined/rear-wheel-drive two-door coupe available in Europe from 1984 to 1990.

Though it was clearly derived from the 105/120-based 130/135/136 sedan (and S100/S110 before that in the 1960s), the previous Rapid somehow escaped the ignominy of the car that begat it, and is now considered a collectable piece of Communist Era Czechoslovakia.

Autocar in the UK describes it as ‘a poor man’s Porsche’, owing to the drivetrain layout.

After a record 762,700 sales in 2010, Skoda expects to sell about 800,000 vehicles globally this year, with the million mark a possibility by the middle of this decade. The stated aim is for 1.5 million units by 2018.

Aiding Skoda’s goals will be big lifts in markets such as India, Russia, China and, of course, India.

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