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Skoda Rapid to be a slow burner

Big small decisions: The Skoda Rapid Liftback is not planned for Australia yet, but remains on the radar.

Czech brand Skoda’s first small car entrant is in for the long haul

6 May 2014

SKODA’S first foray into the critically important small-car segment will be a cautious one, with the company’s local arm projecting a modest initial uptake on the all-new Rapid range.

Launched in wagon-like Spaceback guise in Australia with an expected price point below $20,000, Skoda’s all-turbo rival to the Mazda3, Toyota Corolla and Hyundai i30 will be given time to establish itself in what is Australia’s single most popular market segment.

As the beginning of a growing range of Skoda small-car models, it is hoped that the Rapid will – over time and successive generations ¬– eventually become a key player in its class here.

This plan could include the five-door ‘Liftback’ version, styled to resemble a sedan, that is waiting in the wings for Australia should the company see the demand for it, and which is already available in Europe.

Speaking about the company’s future in this country at the release of the Rapid Sportback and Yeti Series II small SUV this week, Skoda Australia director Michael Irmer admitted that patience and understanding would be necessary for the new small-car range to become entrenched in its super-competitive class.

“Yes there is a lot of opportunity with this car,” he told GoAuto.

“But it is a new model and we do not have unrealistic targets out there right now. People have to learn to understand it, have to consider it, and hopefully they will buy it, but (Skoda Australia’s) world will not be changing overnight.

“But having said that, the Rapid will be one of the cars that will be important for us. At the moment the biggest models in the Skoda range are the Octavia and the Yeti.”

While declining to reveal what level of overall sales growth the company expects, Mr Irmer said both the Rapid and revised Yeti would be vital in spreading the Skoda brand name further than ever before.

“Our aspirations for this year – without giving away any volume expectations – is to put Skoda on the shopping list of more consumers,” he said.

“Once we are on the shopping lists we will sell more cars and become more relevant to the general public, similar to our success in other countries.

“But it is a long avenue, and my plan is to become closer to this goal. We don’t have a particular goal or a particular (sales) target to work to, as long as we are going in the right direction.”

Mr. Irmer said that fine-tuning the right product for Australians is key to Skoda’s growth aspirations, as shown by the successful launch of the latest-generation Octavia medium car range last November.

Albeit up from a low base, year-to-date figures show that sales of the latter have grown 12.0 per cent, and grew 34.0 per cent in April. Similar gains are hoped for the Yeti in particular once the more sharply priced and value-focussed Series II hits the streets.

“We have to put the right measures in place to achieve that,” he said.

“And we obviously have to ensure we have the right alignment, the right decisions in the market, and continue to work with the dealers to have the right marketing, the right model line-up to grow in the market to become more relevant to the Australian public.”

According to Mr Irmer, Skoda is ready if there is demand for the more sedan-like Rapid Liftback to join its Spaceback sibling in the marketplace.

“At the moment we do not have plans to bring in the Rapid Liftback,” he said.

“But this does not mean we will not reassess the situation later on in the future if we need to change that situation. But right now we will not be taking that car.”

Further down the line the brand will be releasing a lightly facelifted version of the Superb Liftback and wagon large car range, while an all-new Fabia is on track for a late 2015 release.

Mr. Irmer added that Skoda Auto head office in the Czech Republic is supportive of his plans to build a solid buyer-base foundation in Australia.

“It is team work – they understand how the Australian market functions, what the customer is, what options they have, what the competition looks like, and then work together with us to determine what the sweet-spot is in the segments,” he said.

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