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Skoda sales held back by supply

Sales saviour: Skoda Octavia leads the brand into new driveways with more fresh-faced product on its way.

Record sales dulled by weak supply as Skoda lags on production

25 Mar 2015

UPDATED: 14/04/2015SKODA is heading for record sales in Australia this year, led by its popular Octavia mid-sizer, but customer waiting lists caused by production delays are hampering further growth.

The third-generation Octavia went on sale in October 2013, with the spicy RS arriving in March last year, while the jacked-up Subaru Outback-baiting Octavia Scout landed in showrooms last month.

Octavia sales grew 45.8 per cent last year to 1803 units, outpacing the more mainstream fare including the Honda Accord (1760), Holden Malibu (1635) and Nissan Altima (1791) in the dwindling sub-$60,000 mid-size segment.

But the news of positive sales growth hides buyer waiting lists that can be as high as nine months as the Czech Republic factories start on a much-needed expansion program.

Skoda Australia director Michael Irmer said the third-generation Octavia range had “exceeded expectations” since its 2013 debut.

“It’s taken us to a new level,” he said. “Unfortunately, there has been a waiting list on some Octavia variants. Some are up to nine months before delivery but have been as high as 12 months.

“We are working hard to solve that. It will improve and it is related mainly to specific models, particularly the wagon and the RS versions.”

Mr Irmer, who travelled to the Czech Republic for future product briefings after the Scout’s debut late last month, said one of Skoda’s two Czech factories was to be extensively renovated to boost capacity.

The production increase would allow the car-maker to better supply global demand, and it will be the production base for the new seven-seat SUV due in Europe in late 2016 and in Australia in early 2017.

Mr Irmer said Skoda produced one million vehicles in 2014, but plans to increase production to 1.5 million vehicles annually by 2018.

“Compare that to some of our rivals,” he said. “Mazda makes about 1.3 million vehicles a year, so does Mitsubishi. Subaru sells about 800,000 vehicles around the world. So we’re in the same zone.”

In Australia, Skoda sold 3853 vehicles in 2014, an 8.4 per cent rise on 2013 and in the first three months of this year, sales are up 52 per cent with 1104 vehicles sold.

Mr Irmer said he is confident of higher volumes in 2015 but he would not speculate on numbers, which have risen slowly since the Volkswagen-owned brand launched here in 2007 with two models: Octavia and Roomster.

The previous Octavia Scout arrived a year later, while sales only broached the 1000-unit mark in 2009 with Superb added to the range. It reached 3500 in 2011 with Fabia and Yeti onboard, remaining around that point before last year’s introduction of the Rapid combined with Octavia to boost the brand up a notch as other models such as Fabia and Superb dropped back and the Roomster was removed from sale for a second time.

“We have to invest to grow,” Mr Irmer said. “We have new dealership signatures, with about 10 per cent of Australian dealerships now completed. We have new training facilities and a new finance program.

“We also promote the fact we are European and we offer value – our little formula. We are 100 per cent made in Europe and our products are designed not to age too fast.

“Our cars will look good on the roads in 15 years’ time.”

Product is the centrepiece of Skoda’s success, and its Australian sales will get a boost with the launch of a new Fabia and the Fabia Combi wagon in July.

“This car will do very well,” Mr Irmer said. “The wagon was popular in its first generation and we think we’ll pick up more sales with the new model.”

Mr Irmer said the Rapid small car, which has hardly ignited the sales charts since its launch here last May, should get a boost later this year with the addition of new equipment.

“It’s a good car, but when it was launched in Australia it wasn’t available with some features, including satellite navigation,” he said. “There will be an upgrade later this year including a Monte Carlo version.

“Sales will take time. It’s a busy segment of the market and we’ll have to build on the car’s features and ability.

“But we’re generally happy with sales. We know they will improve.”

In the first three months of 2015, Skoda has sold only 116 examples of the Rapid, taking the small car’s total volume since launch here to just 484 units.

Skoda has sold 149 Fabias, representing a 58.5 per cent rise on the equivalent three months of 2014, and the Octavia is up 68.1 per cent with 464 units sold.

The Yeti compact SUV that arrived in facelifted guise in May last year is up 2.5 per cent with 250 sales, while the soon-to-be-replaced Superb has dipped 33 per cent (with 69 units) ahead of the new version arriving Down Under in 2016.

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