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Future models - Skoda - Octavia

This time Skoda's serious

Czechmate: Turbocharged Octavia RS is Skoda's current flagship.

Decision due within weeks on whether Volkswagen Czech brand Skoda will return to Oz

4 Oct 2006

By MARTON PETTENDY in PARIS

SKODA will make an official return to the Australian marketplace next year for the first time in more than two decades if a new plan to reintroduce the Czech brand comes to fruition.

The last in a procession of failed attempts to resurrect the Volkswagen-owned eastern European marque Down Under was quashed as recently as two years ago, but the current Volkswagen Group Australia (VGA) management team has told GoAuto that it is "quietly confident" of a favourable response to its latest brand-new business plan within weeks.

"We’ve submitted a plan to Skoda, which is going to the board in a few weeks’ time," VGA general manager press and PR Matthew Wiesner told GoAutoNews at the Paris motor show opening last Thursday, September 28.

"It looks positive this time and we’re reasonably confident, but it could still swing either way. The plan is a solid one, but there may be a few weeks of follow-on before we get the official go-ahead. But after that we’d expect to announce something – by either October or November," he said.

Previous attempts by former VGA managing director Peter Nochar to bring both Skoda and Seat cars back to Australia by 2002, and again by this year, failed because the business plan did not stack up.

Among the ill-fated proposals was a plan to launch Skoda as a diesel-only brand in Australia, and as recently as October last year Volkswagen AG chairman Dr Wolfgang Bernhard told GoAuto there were no plans for Skoda’s return to Australia.

But Volkswagen’s new Australian management, led by VW veteran Jutta Dierks, is now confident enough of an official go-ahead to go public, and believes a stronger new-car vehicle market and a number of new Skoda Auto models will make the difference this time.

If the new VGA plan – which is believed to comprise healthier sales, profitability and dealer number forecasts – is successful, the company hopes to launch the brand locally by late 2007 with the Octavia mid-sizer and the Roomster small car.

Based on VW’s current Golf/Jetta, the second-generation Octavia was launched in Europe in 2004 following its debut at the 2004 Geneva motor show.

Measuring 4572mm long, 1769mm wide and 1462mm high, the new Octavia sedan comes with 55kW 1.4-litre and 75kW 1.6-litre multipoint fuel-injected and 85kW 1.6-litre and 110kW 2.0-litre direct-injected petrol engines in Europe. The diesel engine range includes both 77kW 1.9-litre and 103kW 2.0-litre choices.

All-wheel drive, wagon and (TFSI) turbocharged 147kW RS-badged Octavia variants are also available overseas, while the new Roomster small car is the latest addition to Skoda’s range, which also comprises the Fabia light hatch launched in 1999 and the large Superb sedan launched in 2001.

Last week’s Paris motor show also hosted the global debut of the light-sized Joyster three-door hatch concept, a preview of the next-generation Fabia.

Revealed in sketch form ahead of its Paris reveal, the Joyster uses a Volkswagen platform, so buyers can also expect a range of VW-sourced petrol and diesel engines. A production version to replace Skoda’s current entry-level Fabia hatch, launched in Europe in 1999, is expected to appear sometime next year.

29 center imageLeft: Roomster and Joyster concept (below).

In Europe, Octavia is positioned as a bigger, better-equipped alternative to Jetta for similar money, but in Australia it would be aimed at premium Japanese medium sedans such as Honda’s Accord Euro, Subaru’s Liberty and the Mazda6, which command slightly lower starting prices than VW’s own Jetta, which opens at $32,990.

Mr Wiesner said potential Skoda models would need to provide additional sales for VGA – without undermining the sales of Volkswagen’s existing models.

He said the Roomster would be a five-seater small car rather than a seven-seat compact people-mover like the Caddy Life (priced from $27,990) upon which it is based. Skoda’s Fabia replacement is expected to be based on VW’s Polo, which is currently priced from $16,990, so it could eventually open the Skoda range for under $15,000.

"The most recent new models are the most obvious candidates to launch the Skoda brand with – Octavia and Roomster," Mr Wiesner said. "On the other hand, it’s important that whatever we do is an incremental sales growth opportunity that doesn’t take sales away from our own models.

"Octavia would fit in the medium-car sector and we need to be competitive with what the premium Japanese brands are doing. Octavia is as big as Jetta, which commands a premium over its Japanese rivals.

"Roomster would sit in the small car category – it’s not really a people-mover per se, but a five-seat small car with plenty of room. The dimensions are bigger but it’s certainly in the same class as a variety of Japanese small cars. Caddy Life is a seven-seater, so we’ve not taken it into account in the work we’ve done on Roomster.

"Skoda has some pretty interesting products coming over the next three to five years," he said.

If approved, Skoda could be the first of at least three new brands to arrive in Australia by the end of this decade. While DaimlerChrysler’s Dodge brand was the last new marque to arrive on Australia’s new-car landscape in August this year, Ateco Automotive plans to introduce the country’s first Chinese brand and to relaunch Italy’s Lancia moniker here within a few years.

Regardless of whether Skoda launches successfully in Australia or not, VGA will then turn its attention to Volkswagen’s Spanish subsidiary Seat, which disappeared from Australia more than five years ago.

"We’ve been talking to Skoda longer than Seat, so whichever way it happens over the next month or so there’s obviously an opportunity to do something with them too," Mr Wiesner said.

"To do this you’ve got to focus on one and get that done first. There’s been an 18-month lead-up to all this and we don’t have the resources to do more than we already are. The new Leon is a great car and there will be other fantastic new (Seat) products coming too.

"But when you look at Octavia and Roomster and the lifestyle orientation they represent, they’re a good fit with Australian tastes. Seat has a different positioning – it’s sportier, more dynamic and a bit more defined in its target market. The Skoda opportunity is greater in terms of long-term sales volume." Mr Wiesner said a great deal of promotion needs to be undertaken to increase Skoda’s brand awareness in Australia.

"If we do a green light, late next year would be our (on-sale) target. But there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. The awareness of Skoda in Australia is next to zero, especially within the younger target market we need to reach."
What could come from Skoda:
Octavia sedan Late 2007
Octavia Estate Late 2007
Octavia RS sedan/wagon Late 2007
Roomster small car Late 2007
Joyster/Fabia light hatch 2008

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