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Skoda set to return

Variants: Octavia could be offered here in a number of variants including a turbocharged hatch and a four-wheel drive wagon.

Skoda waits on a favourable Australian Design Rules outcome to return Down Under

Skoda logo13 Nov 2001

BUDGET brand Skoda could return to the Australian market as early as next year if a technical evaluation of its most popular models proves successful.

The Volkswagen-owned Czech car-maker has shipped its Fabia compact and small-medium Octavia to Sydney at the behest of local distributor Volkswagen Group Australia (VGA) and later this month the cars will be inspected for compliance with Australian Design Rules.

According to VGA managing director Peter Nochar, Skoda cars - not sold here since 1983 - would be back on the Australian market within 12 months if the ADR outcome, due before the year's end, is favourable.

"It (Skoda) will come to Australia, that's for sure, but when will depend entirely on ADR compliance," said Mr Nochar.

He said once the cars gained the blessing of ADR authorities, VGA would bring a comprehensive range of Skoda models to Australia, distributing them through a separate, nationwide retail network and tapping in to the group's own service, parts and finance departments.

"We'd look at anything - nothing would be excluded," said Mr Nochar, though he admitted competition between the Czech and German brands would be minimised as far as possible.

"If the job is done right, there are two markets," he said.

"If one is being marketed as a budget car, even if it shares some common components, it won't suit the buyer who wants to have some sort of image or prestige, or something of a more established nature." In the 1970s the Skoda brand was regarded as something of a cheapskate joke here, but its takeover by VW and the management of Dr Ferdinand Piech has seen it become one of the great revival stories.

While still priced extremely competitively, the range benefits from the VW group's extensive platform sharing policy and modern styling. Indeed, Skodas are now often described as a sensible man's VW.

"At this time, when the Japanese particularly are under a lot of pressure with prices, a well-priced VW-engineered European product could do very well," said Mr Nochar.

He predicted sales could reach 10,000 in five years but pricing would be a determining factor.

"If we could be as cheap as the mainstream Japanese, then I think we'd find a good pile of customers," he said.

This is the first time that VGA has shown interest in any brand other than Volkswagen since the franchise began its operations in January.

Mr Nochar has not ruled out pursuing Spanish VW subsidiary Seat, however Skoda was given preference because it was deemed less complicated than relaunching a brand that was sold here only two years ago.

"It's just a fresh start and the Skoda management were very interested in developing a business in Asia-Pacific in some of the bigger markets," he said.

Two other VW brands that could form part of VGA are Audi and Bentley, but Mr Nochar said the present arrangements were unlikely to change for the time being.

He said provided the VW Group was satisfied with the joint-venture between Audi AG and its Australian distributor Astre Automotive, he was pleased for the present arrangements to continue.

As for Bentley, Mr Nochar said VGA could offer technical and parts support to the small number of retail outlets in Australia, though distribution would remain a matter between the factory and individual dealerships.

Skoda's triple treat

Below are the first Skodas that Volkswagen Group Australia will consider bringing here. Missing is the Felicia, which though still sold in some European countries is not believed to enter a new generation and therefore will not make it here.

Fabia: THE first car built off the Volkswagen Group's small car platform (which includes the VW Polo and Audi A2), the Fabia compact is sold as a sedan, hatch and wagon in Europe and has earned rave reviews from European and British motoring scribes.

In Australia, it would go head-to-head with other bite-sized Euro offerings such as the Holden Astra and Renault Clio.

Pricing and specification is likely to mirror these rivals - expect nothing less than power steering, dual airbags, electric windows and the option of air-conditioning and ABS brakes - all for well under $20,000.

The staple engine would be a 1.4-litre four-cylinder.

Superb: FOR now, VGA is confident that Skoda's new prestige medium-large sedan will not eat into Passat sales, despite the obvious platform, size and market segment connections.

Unveiled at the Frankfurt motor show earlier this year, the Superb (using a name which harks back to pre-WWII Skodas) rests on a 2803mm wheelbase and offers a generous amount of interior room front and rear.

Equipment levels should likewise be liberal, extending to Xenon headlamps, curtain airbags, stability control and a five-speed Tiptronic-style automatic transmission.

Expect up to three trim levels. The most obvious engine choice is a 2.8-litre V6.

Octavia: THIS car marked a turning point for Skoda in the late 1990s. Sharing its platform with the likes of the VW Golf, Bora and the Audi A3, the small-medium Octavia could be offered here in a number of interesting variants including a turbocharged hatch (RS) and a four-wheel drive wagon (Octavia 4x4).

Several trim levels are offered in Europe, ranging from a reasonably equipped Classic model (dual airbags, ABS brakes, three-point seatbelts throughout) to the range-topping Laurin & Klement, named after the entrepreneurs who founded Skoda in 1895.

Engine choices could include a 1.6 and 2.0-litre four-cylinder, a 1.8-litre turbo and a 1.9-litre turbo-diesel.

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