It’s amazing to think that the Skoda Octavia was launched as far back as 1996 (though it took another 18 months to arrive in the UK).
Even though the Berlin wall had only been down six years, Skoda had been bought by VW, built a new factory and turned out a very competitive Golf-based hatch.
I was at the launch in Prague (co-incidentally, Michael Jackson was playing his first Czech concert within earshot) and the Skoda PR announced that the ‘new’ Skoda would be targeting Rover and Volvo.
It’s a statement that has stuck in mind ever since.
At the time both Rover and Volvo were attempting to push themselves upmarket. Rover (‘Above all, it’s a Rover’) was well into engineering the 75 and Volvo was knocking off its hard corners with plusher new models such as the S/V40 and S/V70.
I suppose Skoda was thinking about practical family cars that were a cut above the mainstream, but didn’t have premium pretensions. The sort of cars that Volvo had been building, but were now keen to leave behind. It seems Skoda’s strategy was spot-on.
Last year Skoda sold a bit over 700,000 cars and is making good progress in new markets including India and China. Rover, in stark contrast, is long-gone, a victim of failed upmarket pretensions and an inability to make any money.
Volvo is struggling. It’s currently up for sale, jobs have been slashed, annual sales have slid to under 400,000 and its suffered big cash losses in the crucial US market.
And you only have to take one look at the Superb estate to see why Volvo has another headache on the way.
Skoda’s new load-lugger is huge and, judging by the saloon, will be very well made and good to drive. Spec for spec, it’ll also be significantly cheaper than the V70.
It is the ideal car for practically minded people who regard their car as a tool, rather than a lifestyle statement. The Superb estate will appeal to those drivers used to buy old-school Volvos or, more likely, are still running them and need a new car.
Volvo’s latest TV ad for the XC60 states that ‘There’s more to life than a Volvo’. Is this a belated realization that Volvo’s target buyers are not that bothered by beautifully finished, Scandinavian-influenced interiors and that they want robust, unpretentious, practicality?
It’s something that Skoda realized a long time ago.