A couple of weeks ago I was in a snowy (and -8c) Czech Republic to see the unveiling of the all-new Skoda Octavia and, on the following day, sample a two versions of the new car.

Skoda has developed into a huge success for the VW Group. When VW first took a financial stake, the company was relying on the Favorit, a boxy, Bertone-styled hatchback which was pretty crude and underdeveloped, an example of how the countries behind the Iron Curtain had failed to keep up with Western Europe. Its cheapness and basic ruggedness, however, meant that the Favorit did sell in some numbers in the West.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, VW swept in and bought a stake in Skoda in December 1990. Work started soon after on the Felicia, an updated version of the Favorit. By 1993 work had started on the first Skoda Octavia, which was to be based on the Golf 4, but few would have held out much hope for the Skoda brand to amount to much in Western Europe.

At the 1995 unveiling of the Octavia in Prague, the company declared the Octavia would 'compete with Rover and Volvo’. Incredibly, Skoda underestimated its situation. Rover had disappeared ten years later and, today, Skoda is outselling Volvo by a factor of at least 2:1.

According to the latest figures, Skoda sold 873,000 cars between January and the end of November, up 7 per cent on the 817,000 units sold over the same period last year. 2012 sales are up 4.3 per cent across the first 11 months in Western Europe (including up 15 per cent in Germany and a remarkable 30 per cent in the UK. China took 226,000 cars in the first 11 months, a seven per cent jump. The Octavia remains the company’s biggest seller, shifting around 400,000 units globally, just less than twice the number of Fabia superminis made.

With a total of around 930,000 sales pencilled in for 2012, Skoda is well on its way to hitting 1.5m units by 2018. Indeed, it could well hit that target early, especially with production of the new Skoda Rapid ramping up and the Europe-only Citigo getting into its stride.

The new Octavia, which is now rolling off the production line at Mlada Boleslav, will add a huge impetus to Skoda in 2013. Only the oddball Roomster is dramatically under-performing in the showroom. Its replacement will add another significant boost to Skoda sales.

One Skoda staffer told me that the Octavia was ‘only just outside’ the global top-ten best selling cars in the world and that the new model should finally get into the big league. If you have told me that 17 years ago on that evening in Prague, I’d would have confidently declared you barking mad.