Škoda Auto ( pronunciation (help·info), IPA:ʃkodʌ) is an automobile manufacturer in the Czech Republic. In 1991, it became a subsidiary of the Volkswagen Group.
The origins of Škoda go back to the early 1890s where, like many long-established car manufacturers, the company started out with the manufacture of bicycles. It was 1894, and 26-year old Václav Klement, who was a bookseller by trade in Mladá Boleslav, in today's Czech Republic, which was then part of Austria-Hungary, was unable to obtain the right spare parts to repair his German bicycle. Klement returned his bicycle to the manufacturers, Seidel and Naumann, with a letter, in Czech, asking for them to carry out repairs, only to receive a reply, in German, stating: "If you would like an answer to your inquiry, you should try writing in a language we can understand". A disgusted Klement, despite not having any previous technical experience, then decided to start his own bicycle repair shop, which he and Václav Laurin opened in 1895 in Mladá Boleslav. Before going into business partnership with Klement, Laurin was an already established bicycle manufacturer from the nearby town of Turnov.
In 1898, after moving to their newly-built factory, the pair bought a Werner "motorcyclette" [nb 1], which was produced by French manufacturer Werner Brothers. Laurin & Klement's first motorcyclette (which was powered by an engine mounted on the handlebars driving the front wheels) proved dangerous and unreliable — an early incident on it cost Laurin a front tooth. To design a safer machine with its structure around the engine, the pair wrote to German ignition specialist Robert Bosch for advice on a different electromagnetic system. The pair's new Slavia motorcycle made its debut in 1899. In 1900, when the company had a workforce of 32, Slavia exports began, with 150 machines shipped to London for the Hewtson firm. Shortly afterwards, the press credited them as makers of the first motorcycle.
The first model, Voiturette A, was a success and the company was established both within Austria-Hungary and internationally. By 1905 cars were being produced by the firm. During the First World War Škoda was engaged in war production.
After WWI it began producing trucks, but in 1924, after running into problems and being hit by a fire, the company sought a partner. As a result it merged with Škoda Works, the biggest industrial enterprise in Czechoslovakia. Most later production was under the Škoda name. After a decline during the economic depression, Škoda was again successful with models such as the Popular in the late 1930s.
During the World War II Occupation of Czechoslovakia, the Škoda works was turned into part of Hermann Göring Werke serving the German World War II effort.
When, by July 1945, the Mladá Boleslav factory had been reconstructed, production of Škoda's first post-WWII car, the 1101 series began. It was essentially an updated version of the pre-WWII Škoda Popular. In the autumn of 1945, Škoda (along with all large manufacturers) became part of the planned economy, which meant it was separated from the parent Škoda company. In spite of unfavourable political conditions and losing contact with technical development in non communist countries, Škoda retained a good reputation until the 1960s, producing models such as the Škoda 440 Spartak, 445 Octavia, Felicia and Škoda 1000 MB. Škoda has always been known internationally for building very tough and reliable cars.
In the late 1980s, Škoda (then named Automobilové závody, národní podnik, Mladá Boleslav) was still manufacturing cars that conceptually dated back to the 1960s. Rear engined models such as the Škoda 105/120, Estelle and Rapid sold steadily and performed well against more modern makes in races such as the RAC Rally in the 1970s and 1980s. They won their class in the RAC rally for 17 years running. They were powered by a 130 bhp, 1289 cc engine. In spite of its dated image and being the subject of jokes, the Škoda remained a common sight on the roads of UK and Western Europe throughout the 1970s and 80s.
Sport versions were available for the Estelle, and earlier models, using "Rapid" as the version name. Soft-top versions were also available. The Rapid was once described as the 'poor man's Porsche' and had significant sales success in the UK during the 1980s.
"Of course, that the Škoda became such a figure of fun was in part due to its ubiquity on Britain's roads. The company must have been doing something right". extract from BBC report on Škoda sales in 1980s.
The turning point came in 1987 with the Favorit model. The Favorit's appearance was designed by Italian design company Bertone. With some motor technology licensed from western Europe, but still using the Škoda designed 1289 cc engine, Škoda engineers succeeded in designing a car comparable to western production. The technological gap was still there, but began closing rapidly. The Favorits were very popular in Czechoslovakia, and other Eastern Block countries. They also sold fairly well in Western Europe, especially in the UK, being regarded as solid and reliable, as well as a good value. Their trim levels continued to improve and they were sold until the introduction of the Felicia in 1996.
Subsidiary of Volkswagen Group
The Velvet Revolution brought great changes to Czechoslovakia, and most industries were subject to privatisation. In the case of Škoda Automobile, the government brought in a strong foreign partner. Volkswagen was chosen in 1990 and in April, 1991, Škoda became the fourth brand of the Volkswagen Group.
VW was pitted against French car maker Renault, who lost because its strategic plan did not include producing high value models in the Czech factories: the Renault Twingo city car was set to be produced in the Škoda factories.
At the time the decision was made, privatization to a major German company was somewhat controversial. The subsequent fortunes of other Eastern-Bloc automobile manufacturers such as Lada-AutoVAZ , and of Škoda works itself, once Škoda auto's parent company, could be argued to suggest that this was not necessarily a poor decision.
Backed by VW expertise and investments the design — both style and engineering — has improved greatly. The 1994 model Felicia was still based on the floorpan of the Favorit, but quality improvements helped and in the Czech Republic the car was as popular as it was value for money. The subsequent models Octavia and Fabia finally made their way to the demanding European Union markets. They are built on common Volkswagen Group floorpans. The latest Octavia is based on Golf Mk5 floorpan, and Fabia is based on the A0 floorpan. This is interesting, as it came out a year before VW released the new Polo that was also based on it.
The perception of Škoda in Western Europe has changed completely. As technical development progressed and attractive new models were brought to market, Škoda's image was initially slow to improve. In the UK, a major turnabout was achieved with the ironic "It is a Škoda, honest" campaign, which was started in the early 2000s. In a 2003 advertisement on British television, a new employee on the production line is fitting Škoda badges on the car bonnets. When some attractive looking cars come along he stands back, not fitting the badge, since they look so good they cannot be Škodas. This market campaign worked by confronting Škoda's image problem head-on — a tactic which marketing professionals regard as high risk. If the Fabia and Octavia had been anything less than excellent cars, the campaign might have backfired badly. By 2005, Škoda was selling over 30,000 cars a year in the UK, a market share of over 1%. For the first time in its UK history, a waiting list developed for deliveries by Škoda. Škoda owners in the UK have consistently ranked the brand at or near the top of the J.D. Power customer satisfaction survey during the 2000s.
Škoda now has several manufacturing and assembly plants, including one in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Škoda also has an assembly plant in the city of Aurangabad, in the western Indian state of Maharashtra which was established in 2001 as Skoda Auto India Private Ltd.
In 2006, Škoda presented its brand new model Roomster, which is a small MPV with a unique design, which reflects future trends. At the end of December 2006, Škoda also released the first official pictures of the new Fabia, a model that would replace Fabia in 2007.
Later in 2008, Škoda released the first pictures of the facelifted Octavia. Featuring new headlights, front grill/bumper as well as a slightly restyled rear and interior. The revised car also features a new selection of engines including the 1.4 TFSI and new common rail diesel engines.
A new concept car was presented at the Paris Auto Show in September 2006. The concept was called Joyster, and is a three-door compact car intended especially for young people.
In 2005 the company produced 494,637 vehicles, and on 22 November 2006, produced the 500,000th vehicle of 2006, the first time in Škoda's long history that this target had been reached. By the end of 2006, over 550,000 vehicles had been produced.
Volkswagen AG's Australian arm, VGA (Volkswagen Group Australia), recently announced that they would be returning Škoda to the Australian car market in October, 2007. Before that date, Škoda vehicles were last sold in Australia in 1983. Currently only the Octavia and Roomster are available in Australia, with the Fabia to join later on and the second generation Superb to join in 2009.
It is rumored that a version from the Brazilian Volkswagen Gol NF will be a new base model for Škoda in Europe.
Following a long history of class victories in lower levels of motorsport, Škoda became a participant in the FIA World Rally Championship in the 1999 season, with World Rally Car models of the Škoda Octavia. Škoda's best result with the Octavia WRC was Armin Schwarz's third place at the 2001 Safari Rally. From late 2003, the Octavia was replaced by the smaller Škoda Fabia. Škoda used the 2004 season to develop the car further but did not achieve much success the following season. However, at the season-ending Rally Australia, the 1995 world champion Colin McRae was running second before retiring. Škoda then withdrew from the series, and the 2006 season saw Škoda represented by the semi-official Red Bull Škoda Team. Jan Kopecký drove the Fabia WRC to fifth place at the Rally Catalunya, and as late as the 2007 Rallye Deutschland, the Fabia still achieved a fifth place result, again in the hands of Kopecký.
- Laurin & Klement A (1905-1907)
Out of production
- Margolius, Ivan and Meisl, Charles (1992). Škoda Laurin & Klement. London: Osprey. ISBN 1855322374.