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Skoda parties like it’s 1999

Volume seller: The Skoda Yeti compact SUV will arrive in the second quarter of 2010 to boost the Czech company's sales.

The Czechs are building slowly – just as big sister VW was in Oz a dozen years ago

1 Sep 2009

SKODA has revealed that the company sees itself about where Volkswagen was about a decade ago in terms of growth potential.

Driving future volume will be new and updated product in fresh market segments, an emphasis on appealing to younger buyers, and a wider servicing network throughout Australia. Speaking at the launch of the flagship Octavia RS Liftback and wagon in Sydney last week, Skoda Australia chief Matthew Wiesner admitted that the Czech brand still has a long way to go before it can achieve the sort of market acceptance and success of its long established sister marque.

“We are not in a dissimilar position that Volkswagen was (in Australia) about 10 to 12 years ago,” he said.

“We’re almost in a similar position, in that everybody knew what Volkswagen was, but it was regarded as being too expensive, poor quality and no idea of what it stood for … but look at it now.

“We’ve entered the market 18 months ago to ‘who the hell are you?’ and ‘we thought you were this’, but now the whole understanding of who we are, what we are, what our products are, and why we do what we do, is starting to become clearer.”

29 center image From top: Skoda Superb wagon, Skoda Octavia, Skoda Fabia.

Reiterating that Skoda was here to stay, Mr Wiesner said Skoda’s 20 per cent growth during the first seven months of 2009 – in a market that is about 15 per cent down – meant the company was gaining the necessary traction to forge forwards inside the next three years.

During that time, the model range is expected to grow from three models – Roomster, Octavia and the recently released Superb – to as many as seven distinct product lines.

Mr Wiesner is hoping to launch five models in Australia by the end of next year.

The key model for sales volumes will be the Yeti compact SUV.

Expected to commence at a high-$20,000 price point against rivals such as the Toyota RAV4, the Volkswagen Tiguan-based Yeti will include base front-wheel drive as well as up-spec all-wheel drive models when it arrives sometime in the second quarter of 2010.

As its first proper compact SUV, the Yeti will give Skoda much-needed representation in one of the strongest market segments in Australia.

However, high hopes are riding on the Superb wagon that is about to be publically revealed at this month’s Frankfurt motor show.

Due in the first quarter of next year, Skoda is confident that the large and pleasantly styled carryall will have the practicality as well as the presence and value for money to lure medium, large and premium wagon buyers, as well as larger SUV and 4WD customers.

A facelift for the Roomster is also coming in 2010. It will feature a revised interior and the addition of TSI turbocharged petrol four-cylinder engines as well as an automatic for the diesel option – an oversight that Mr Wiesner believes has hurt the small wagon’s fortunes in Australia.

The other sales underperformer that should blossom next year is the Octavia Scout TDI with DSG dual-clutch automatic gearbox, to sit alongside the manual-only Subaru Outback-like crossover/quasi-SUV series.

Following in the steps of the latest Golf, the Octavia will probably also gain a 1.4TSI turbo four-cylinder petrol powerplant as well as the new 77kW 1.6 TDI turbo-diesel.

Meanwhile, Skoda is working hard to bring in the updated Fabia light car to Australia sometime after it comes under the scalpel for a Geneva motor show reveal next March.

The rumoured RS ‘GTI’ version of the current Polo-based baby is thought to be the model to spearhead the smallest Skoda’s debut.

The latter will be crucial if younger buyers are going to be attracted to the brand.

“Skoda definitely needs to talk to younger buyers,” Mr Wiesner admitted.

By the end of 2010 the Volkswagen Group is counting on having about 30 selling dealers and 20 further servicing outlets affiliated with existing Volkswagen outlets to look after the growing fleet of Skodas in Australia.

Mr Wiesner said the extra visibility afforded of having a Skoda service sign in more rural and remote areas would help buyers keep the brand more in front of mind.

“If you offer that service support then sales will come,” he said.

By the end of this year, there are 23 Skoda dealers scheduled to be operating. Skoda will struggle to hit the 1500 unit mark it is aiming for in 2009, which is just over half of the 2833 passenger cars Volkswagen managed in Australia in 1996 (rising to 4473 vehicles with the Transporter commercial van volume included).

“We will get close,” Mr Wiesner said.

What's coming from Skoda:
Superb wagon: Second quarter 2010
Yeti: Second quarter 2010
Octavia Scout auto: Mid 2010
Roomster facelift: Second half 2010
Fabia II Series II: Late 2010

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