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Skoda shifts up a gear

Little big foot: Skoda's Yeti is finally destined to hit our shores from 2011.

More SUVs, keener pricing and wider dealer representation planned for Skoda

Skoda logo21 May 2010

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

SKODA is planning for a 30 per cent jump in volume this year on the back of fresh metal, sharper value and key model repositioning.

And despite the discontinuation of the entry-level Roomster range in Australia earlier this year, a renewed emphasis in the sub-$30,000 market and a much greater SUV presence by this time next year – thanks to a fresh Octavia update as well as the debut of the Yeti – will help drive the sales increases.

This will be backed up a steady growth in the dealer network over the next two years, filling key gaps across the country for the Czech brand.

According to Skoda, the launch this month of the Superb Wagon will give the struggling Superb range a credible and attractive proposition for customers of competitors as varied as Holden Commodore Sportwagon and Mercedes E-class Estate to consider, while giving Octavia owners a vehicle to trade-up to.

In the 11 months since its release in May 2009, only 166 Superbs were registered in Australia. Skoda is expecting far greater things from its Volkswagen Passat-based large car as the word of the wagon’s arrival gets around.

At the other end of the market, the fate of the long-delayed Fabia will be decided over the next few months.

But don’t hold your breath, because, despite favourable exchange rates of late, the ongoing volatility of the global currency markets, combined with the current Fabia’s move into middle age, may see Volkswagen Group Australia hold off until the next-generation vehicle becomes available in about three years.

“A decision will be made inside the next six months,” said Skoda Australia head Matthew Wiesner. “Obviously we would prefer to have it here today, or sometime in 2011 would be fantastic.”

Until that happens, the Octavia range will be stretched downwards again towards the end of the year with the arrival of a 90TSI model featuring the latest 1.4-litre direct turbo injection four-cylinder petrol engine from the Volkswagen Golf.

29 center imageFrom top: Skoda Octavia Scout, Skoda Superb Wagon, Skoda Fabia.

Replacing the 75kW/148Nm 1.6 version released when the expanded and cheaper Series II range arrived with the Octavia facelift in March 2009, the new 90kW/200Nm 90TSI is expected to dip below the $23,000 mark to give Skoda a true competitor against the likes of the entry level Mazda3 and Toyota Corolla.

Of the 340 Skodas sold in Australia to the end of April, 257 were Octavias, so a cheaper entry price is expected to keep up the small car’s sales momentum.

Meanwhile, the Octavia-based Scout will get a massive fillip at the beginning of next year with a multiplication of variants on offer as a result of the introduction of an ‘automatic’ DSG dual-clutch option.

Skoda hopes that the self-shifting Scout will make a greater impact against the hot-selling Subaru Outback, which has enjoyed a 100 per cent-plus volume increase in Australia this year compared to the first four months of 2009 as a result of the generation five overhaul.

“The vast majority of people coming in to see the Scout are asking for an auto, so we can’t wait to get the DSG in,” Mr Wiesner said.

Skoda is counting on becoming more of a household name in SUVs with the Scout DSG, as well as the long-awaited arrival of the Yeti – a rebodied relation to the extremely popular Volkswagen Tiguan.

To be offered in a variety of direct-injection petrol and diesel engines ranging from a derivative of the new Polo 77TSI’s 1.2-litre turbo four-pot to the 118TSI and 2.0-litre TDI family, the front-wheel and all-wheel-drive Yeti is a Subaru Forester-sized compact SUV that will engage the $25,000 to $35,000 end of that market.

“2011 is looking like a pretty strong year for Skoda in Australia – especially in the mid-$20,000 to $40,000 range,” Mr Wiesner said.

Speaking of newcomers, Skoda recently was reported to be investigating another all-new model in the mould of a true C-segment, Golf/Corolla-sized small-car sedan or hatch, to slot in the sizeable space between the Fabia and next Octavia – which is expected to grow in size.

This vehicle will be inexpensive to produce, giving Skoda a rival against the runaway successful Dacia Logan range in Europe. Whether such a car would come to Australia remains to be seen, but it would probably not be as technically sophisticated as the Golf-based Octavia.

On the subject of Octavia, the all-new third-generation model is expected to appear sometime in 2013 (the current model dates back to 2004 in Europe), while the Roomster may return in about 2014 when the next-generation model appears.

“We will always keep our finger on its development for Australia,” Mr Wiesner revealed.

To help maintain the increase in Skoda vehicle numbers on Australian roads, the dealer network will grow from today’s 22 new-car and 16 after sales outlet centres to 25 of the former and 20 of the latter by the end of this year.

The service centres will continue to be combined with established Volkswagen dealerships since the technology between the two marques is so closely aligned, while fresh Skoda dealer representation will occur equally in both urban and rural areas, according to Mr Wiesner.

“There will be a significant expansion of the network over the next 24 months,” he said.

“Skoda will be second only to Volkswagen as far as aftersales and service dealer work is concerned.

“But we will do it at the speed that we see as appropriate to the brand’s sales growth in order to respect existing dealers.”
Skoda model timeline:
Superb Wagon May 2010
Octavia 90TSI Q4 2010
Scout DSG Q1 2011
Yeti Q2 2011

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