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Skoda ditches ‘quirky’ image

Odds gone: Skoda will move away from interesting but “polarising” designs such as the Yeti going forward.

Czech brand Skoda to eschew funky designs as it looks to build sales volumes

Skoda logo6 Sep 2016

By TIM ROBSON

ONE of the last hold-outs of unusually designed cars will bow to the winds of fashion, as it moves towards a more mainstream future.

Skoda’s portfolio in Australia has included cars such as the boxy Yeti and the bulbous Roomster, both of which have garnered critical acclaim but not enough sales.

Now, the brand is looking to the more conventionally designed vehicle, like the forthcoming Kodiaq SUV, as it looks to give more customers what they want, rather than a few.

It also hopes to capitalise on its European heritage, as well as its relative youth in the Australian market, to improve the customer offering at both a retail and service level.

Skoda Australia director Michael Irmer nodded when asked by GoAuto at the launch of the Fabia Monte Carlo in Sydney if the era of quirky Skodas was at an end.

“Yes, I think so. I think that ‘quirky’ is probably a little bit too niche to build brand values on,” he said. “We need to able to offer something unique which meets demand in terms of product. This comes down to what the customer wants.

“They want good looking vehicles, and when you have a polarising design, you have a fraction of the customers who love it and a fraction that hate it, and you start to exclude parts of the market.”

The Yeti is soon to be replaced by an SUV that will be based on the same underpinnings as the Volkswagen Tiguan, with Mr Irmer suggesting that the two cars will share similar dimensions.

“It’s better to have a non-polarising design but good looks, great package with good space and usability and the latest technology. We are loading up the cars with technology, and luckily the factory has access to all the latest Volkswagen Group technology now,” he said.

 center imageLeft: Skoda Australia director Michael Irmer.Mr Irmer also explained that while Skoda’s buyer profile was part of the reason for the brand’s performance to this point, that profile is starting to shift towards a more mainstream view.

“It’s also a bit to do with the clientele who buys our vehicles. These are not budget shoppers. They are automotive connoisseurs that don’t have to ‘up’ their ego with a big brand they want to buy substance,” said Mr Irmer.

“They are independent thinkers, with above-average income and education, travel savvy, and doing a lot of research. That is not a surprise – they do all the research and discover that our cars often are superior over many of the competitors.

“Other buyer types might follow the herd and buy socially acceptable brands, and it partly explains too why we have a different demographic – but that demographic is starting to shift step by step into the mainstream area.”

Mr Irmer said the company did not consider parent company Volkswagen as a rival, rather, the two operated in a ‘complimentary’ manner when it came to market space. He did note, however, that Skoda still needs to maintain its own identity.

“The brand still has to have its own soul, and we’re really making sure the brand does have its own soul,” he said.

By necessity, Skoda brings in most of its new business from buyers of other brands, according to Mr Irmer, notably Subaru, Mazda and Honda.

The company’s sights are aimed both lower and higher positioned brands, though.

“Our first aim is to conquer the aspirational Japanese brand buyers,” he said.

“The Korean space is probably still too mainstream. There will be buyers coming across from those brands because they can see the technology we have in the vehicles, but I don’t think those buyers are our key focus.

“Our buyers want the lot, which is why we’ve adjusted our product offering and focus on offering our customers more. They’re willing to spend the money. They’re not even cash-poor buyers for example, they just don’t see the reason or justification to spend on a lot more money on a luxury brand for not such a dissimilar offering.

Mr Irmer acknowledged that Skoda previously lagged behind its parent company when it came to accessing VW Group technology, but pointed out that recent model launches have shown that it is no longer a valid criticism.

“All of the new models are coming to market on scalable platforms,” he explained. “The technology available in those scalable platforms determines what you can have at what point in time, and sometimes that means that certain technology comes later because simply that architecture comes at a later point in time.

“There have been cases recently where the situation was reversed the new Fabia from five years ago launched with a new platform before the Polo. There might be cases where Skoda gets the technology six months later… but so what.”

And while the brand’s designs might be going more mainstream, Mr Irmer is adamant that Skoda will not abandon its value for money ethos, nor will it neglect the back end of the service story.

“It’s something that (Skoda chief executive officer) Bernhard Maier says all the time it’s about more car for your money. We don’t want to be cheaper by price point, and that resonates well with the Australian buyer,” said Mr Irmer.

“Is it about value? Oh, absolutely it is. We are just getting more stuff for the same money.

“We are in the European space, and we want to become known for a carefree ownership experience. This is where a lot of European brands have let their customers down. We want to make sure we become known for (good service).

“We are a European brand, and in Australia that stands for something.”

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