I’ve just got back from a brief trip to Bohemia, home of Skoda. We visited Mlada Boleslav, Skoda’s HQ for design and engineering, for a close-up look at the new Citigo, in both three and five-door versions, and for a face-to-face chat with Skoda bosses.
The Czech maker is streaming into the future, with sales this year growing at a double digit pace and expected to come in at over 800,000 units. However, the bosses at the VW group have set a very high bar for Skoda’s expansion.
By 2015, Skoda is supposed to selling around 1.5m new cars annually. That’s going to be a tricky near-doubling of sales because the Skoda line-up will expand by just two more models: an entry-level Golf hatch competitor and this Citigo. Of course, the rest of the range will be revamped and updated, but that target is asking a lot of the company, even if it continues to expand rapidly in India and China.
Skoda's MissionL concept will go into production
Skoda’s reinvention is becoming a business school set text, if it isn’t already. I first visited Prague in 1996 (the same night as Michael Jackson’s famous Prague concert, so it must have been 6 September if the web is to be believed) to see the first Octavia unveiled. It was only a few short years after the collapse of Communism and this country of exceptional engineers and artists was still finding its feet.
The unveil was a very big deal for the Czechs and the company PR boss told us that the re-born Skoda was going to be aimed directly at Rover and Volvo. It’s worth remembering that, back then, the Volvo S40 and Rover 400 had just been unveiled, so Skoda wasn’t shooting for the moon.
Well, Rover’s dead (partly killed by Skoda perhaps) and Volvo is selling just over half of what Skoda currently manages. Much of the reason for Skoda’s rise is that it has a special place inside VW, being allowed to go off piste – and off-platform – with its products.
The Superb (now shifting nearly 100,000 units per year, three times what the first-gen model managed) is based on the long-wheelbase Chinese market Passat. The Yeti is a very different proposition to the VW Tiguan and Audi Q3 and the Roomster a long way from a Touran clone.
True, the Citigo is much closer to the VW Up, but then this market segment is super price sensitive, leaving no wriggle room to go expensively off-plan. But with the upcoming spacious, budget, Golf rival on the way, Skoda looks again like it will hit another profitable market slot. 1.5million is a huge number of cars but, after the last 15 years, who would bet against the Czechs?