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RS lifting Skoda sales, image

Future boost: Sales of Skoda's new-generation Superb range will outpace the current model, according to the company's local boss, Michael Irmer.

Skoda slowly gaining traction in Australia despite some slow-selling models

Skoda logo10 Jul 2015

By TIM NICHOLSON

SKODA is expected to achieve record sales in Australia again this year on the back of a refreshed product line-up, improved brand awareness and the popularity of its RS performance line.

The Czech car-maker has grown year on year since it returned to the Australian market in 2007 and last year recorded 3853 sales, marking its best result so far.

This year, Skoda sales are up by 30 per cent to 2352 units to the end of June, compared with 1807 in the first six months of 2014, but despite the significant growth, Skoda Australia director Michael Irmer remains coy about the brand's potential volume this year.

“We don't publicise sales predictions,” he told GoAuto at the third-generation Fabia launch in New South Wales this week. “I think obviously we are going strong on last year for the first six months so it's safe to expect that we are going to end up above last year.” Mr Irmer said it was difficult to predict where Skoda would end up by the end of 2015, given the variable market conditions and the weaker market in the second half of last year.

“Last year we saw a softening of the market this time of the year in July/August. So I am not a big fan of making big announcements, I am a bigger fan of actual achievements. I think it's more reliable and there are more facts.” Skoda's RS range now only consists of the mid-size Octavia following the decision not to offer the new-gen Fabia in warmed-over RS guise, and has proven to be a hit with Australia's performance-car loving public.

Mr Irmer said Australia has “one of the highest” mixes of RS models in the world, and added that it has helped shape the brand Down Under.

“RS Octavia is probably what the brand is most well-known for and it is shaping the brand in that aspect,” he said. “It's obviously a great thing to have because for us it puts us in a comfortable position that we are successful in a relatively large vehicle and ... that puts us, perception wise, in a different spot.

“It is why we are feeling very comfortable about Octavia, especially the position and perception around RS. RS is really the lead and the hero, and it is here. Unlike in other markets it is a true mainstream model for us.” A number of car-makers with performance divisions or sub brands have highlighted Australia as a key market for them, given the high take-up of go-fast versions of models. Other examples include Mercedes-Benz and its AMG brand, Renault Sport, Audi's S and RS brands and Subaru's STI.

Mr Irmer confirmed that there was still a waiting list for the popular Octavia RS in Australia, but that customers would have their cars “within four months”. The RS makes up 40 per cent of overall Octavia sales in Australia.

The new Superb, which arrives next year, will perform better than the current model, according to Mr Irmer, who described the large sedan and wagon range as the car-maker's flagship.

“You can bet it is going to sell more than the previous generation,” he said. “Existing Superb buyers, according to our market research, which also compares buyer satisfaction with other brands, shows Superb is one of the outstanding ones when it comes to customer satisfaction after the purchase of the vehicle, so they are highly satisfied.

“We expect the car to do better than the current generation. Having said that, current generation has done stable sales and has contributed.

“It's not a mainstream segment in Australia given the nature of it, given it's declining, given it's been heavily pushed artificially in the past by local production, but there is always going to be a need for a car in this size category, because it is giving more space in the car for a family. Space you can't find in an SUV unless you go supersized.” In terms of the Yeti, Mr Irmer said he was happy with the quirky crossover's volume, despite its sitting at the back of the compact-SUV segment for sales.

“(There are) a lot of new entrants, we are surprised how continuously the Yeti does numbers nearing almost 100 every month, it's very stable. We intend to continue on with that and obviously the Australian market shifts more and more towards the smaller SUVs not only to SUVs as a whole.” The arrival in May last year of the revised Yeti has given it a shot in the arm, with sales up 23.3 per cent so far this year compared with the same period last year to 539 units. It trails the best sellers in the segment by some margin, with the larger Hyundai ix35 on 9343 units, and Mitsubishi's ASX on 5984 and the Volkswagen Tiguan on 3526.

The Yeti is outpacing a few niche offerings, including the Peugeot 4008 (505) and 2008 (178), SsangYong Korando (233).

The numbers for the slow selling Rapid small hatch are not cause for concern, according to Mr Irmer, who said any new nameplate would take some time to gain traction in Australia's competitive marketplace.

“It's (Rapid) almost at its expectation so it is around about in the ball park now for where it was expected. We always had factored in that it will take us time to establish an all-new model name, it was clear.

“Because clearly the task for this generation of the model and the second-generation model, we can grow from there as we have well proven with Octavia and we hope we can improve that with Fabia as well.” In the seven months it was on sale last year, the Rapid found 368 homes, and so far this year 208 buyers have snapped up the VW Golf rival. It is likely to get a boost with the arrival of the Monte Carlo spec, announced this week, that adds a dark exterior styling theme.

The just launched Fabia is also expected to deliver solid volume for the brand, but Mr Irmer said he was not concerned about customers cross shopping it with its Volkswagen Polo cousin, and added that Skoda was focusing on highlighting its value for money image.

“The Fabia is not here to steal customers off Polo at all. The job of the Skoda brand is to complement Volkswagen's flagship brand, to complement it in all markets,” he said.

“You might find people doing a cross price reference but I think we have a positioning target.

“We don’t try to be cheap, we try to be value, I think it resonates better with people that’s what we found. What you find is when you try to be cheap, customers don’t want to be seen in the product.

“They appreciate the value but you never want to be seen in something cheap. Which is why our strategy with the (option) packs works really well and it does a sustainable job for the brand.”

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