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Skoda Australia seeks Mazda3 rival

Trendsetter: Vision D concept heralds the new design direction for Skoda's all-new small car and next Octavia.

VW’s Czech mate to fill the gap between Fabia and next Octavia with new small Skoda

Skoda logo17 Aug 2011

By MIKE COSTELLO

SKODA Group Australia is set to offer its first genuine rival for small-car giants like Toyota’s Corolla and the Mazda3 as part of an ambitious growth plan that will be supported by a significantly expanded dealer network.

Head of the Czech brand’s Australian operations, Matthew Wiesner, said the addition of light-sized Fabia and Yeti compact SUV models here in September and October respectively to Skoda’s existing local line-up of Octavia and Superb models would only be the beginning of a new model renaissance for the Volkswagen-owned brand.

Speaking at a media briefing to launch new Superb 103TDI variants this week, Mr Wiesner said Skoda plans to broaden its model range in order to reach its global sales goal of 1.5 million units by the end of this decade.

“That is not going to happen overnight and it’s not going to happen with the products that we’ve got today,” he said.

“Do you do it with Fabia, Yeti, Superb and Octavia alone? No. It’s going to happen with an expanded product line-up.

“You’ll see the brand over the next five years evolve significantly in confidence, in styling and in model range.” Mr Wiesner said the most obvious gap in the company’s local line-up was a genuine small-segment contender.

“If you’re not in that, you’re not going to drive the brand where you need to go from a volume point of view,” he said. “That’s vital for us here.”

29 center imageLeft: Head of Skoda Group Australia Matthew Wiesner. Below: Skoda Fabia, Yeti, Fabia RS, Roomster.

Skoda’s Australian product marketing manager Petr Benada confirmed this week that the all-new model would appear in Europe next year, but would not say if it will wear the rumoured ‘Felicia’ nameplate.

Whatever it is called, Skoda’s take on the VW Golf will slot neatly into the brand’s portfolio between the Fabia and the Octavia, which Mr Weisner says will grow into a true mid-sized vehicle when the next-generation model appears in 2013.

“(Octavia) sort of slips into small but obviously plays in medium,” he said. “That will change when the new one comes - it will be more of a typical medium-sized car.” Both the new small-car and the Octavia are likely to be inspired by the Vision D concept that debuted earlier this year, though Mr Wiesner would only confirm that the next Octavia would feature a “more confident” design than the current iteration.

“We’ve got a (design) team now that’s spent a lot of time within the Audi brand,” he said. “You can certainly see confidence in design in the next generation.

“That needs to happen, as Skoda the brand evolves and becomes more confident and as its presence on the global stage becomes greater, then styling has to match the desire of the job required of the brand – the lines, the confidence, the whole thing.

“I’ve seen (next-generation) Octavia… the step up in confidence from a design perspective is quite extraordinary, but still very European.” Mr Wiesner also said that “it would be nice to have a seven-seat SUV-type product” in Skoda’s model range. However, if or when such a model could emerge remains sketchy.

Before then, it will be full steam ahead for Volkswagen’s entry-level brand with the launch of the light Fabia hatchback range and the small Yeti crossover line-up set to double the Skoda model range within two months.

More Fabia variants - including the wagon body style, RS hot-hatch and optional DSG dual-clutch automatic transmission – will join the range early next year, along with the reintroduction of the quirky Roomster light commercial with revised petrol engines, at a “very aggressive price”.

The expanded range is expected to allow Skoda to make headway into regional markets while it continues to compete with product from its main Japanese and Korean competitors.

“It’s been three years getting to this point,” said Mr Wiesner. “We’re up to speed and have everything that we have internationally and we (will now) roll with what’s going on globally.” To cope with the influx of new model, Skoda plans to expand its national dealer network from 31 at present to 55 by the end of 2014.

Globally, the marque is on track to break its all-time annual sales record this year, with 523,000 units delivered to the end of July.

This represents sales growth of 19.7 per cent on the same timeframe in 2010 and includes substantial improvements in developing markets including China, India and Russia and parts of Central, Eastern and Western Europe.

Skoda sales in Australia are up 47.3 per cent so far in 2011, with June and July being the brand’s best two sales months since its launch here in 2007.

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