Twenty-three years ago, I made the trip to the pre-EU Czech Republic to see Skoda unveil its first all-new model under Volkswagen Group ownership.
The Mk4 Golf-based Octavia was crisply modern and wore an unapologetically big chromed grille. (Big chromed grilles were popular back then.) Skoda’s PR boss announced that the car would compete with Rover and Volvo.
To put that into the context of 1995, Skoda was the maker of VW-tweaked but decidedly old-school cars. Rover was on the up, having been bought by BMW the year before, and Volvo was admired for being solidly middle class and thoroughly practical. Back then, a chrome grille was a sign of ‘cut-above’ aspiration.
Fast forward to 2018 and Skoda has made the kind of progress that would have seemed beyond imagining. Rover is long dead, BMW pulling the investment plug in 2000. Volvo’s fortunes and sales wavered as it tried to become a true premium brand before it blew the budget on new engines and architectures and took off under Chinese ownership.
The new Volvo and new Skoda comparison is very interesting. Volvo sold 571,000 cars in 2017 and managed to make significant profits on them of around £1.2 billion. Skoda, by contrast, sold 1.2 million vehicles globally – and it doesn’t even have a presence in the US market.