An affectionate look at the increasing popularity of motor manufacturer Škoda Auto a.s.
It cannot have escaped one’s notice that Škoda cars now proliferate our roads in similar quantities to many other manufacturers. However, thirty years ago, they were the subject of many a joke, notably one that said the way to double the value of a Škoda was to fill up its tank with fuel! Whilst such comments may have been unkind, they were generally very true as most models then available had rear engines and rust-infectious bodywork. In effect, the cars were basic vehicles and a symbol of communist living, much as the Trabant was in East Germany. Despite various improvements to engine capacity and so-called styling tweeks, manufacturing standards declined rapidly in the 1960s as they were unable to compete with technological developments in the western world. In the late 1970s the Czech economy became stagnated and overall Škoda production went into freefall.
The launch of the Škoda Favorit in 1987 was the beginning of a renaissance. The history of the company has a strong pedigree. Back in 1895, two bicycle enthusiasts named Václav Laurin and Václav Klement began manufacturing their own bicycles, eventually leading to motorcycle production. By 1905 the first automobile was manufactured by the Laurin & Klement Company. Production gradually increased and by 1914, the company was producing vehicles for the armed forces. As an international market began to open for the company, and the need to modernise their operations, Laurin & Klement joined forces with the Pilsen Škoda Company, which would eventually become Škoda Automobile.
From 1939 to 1945 the former Czechoslovakia was occupied by the Germans. They integrated the Škoda operation into the industrial structure of the German Empire and severely limited civilian production. Immediately following the war, the company was nationalised and continued in much the same vein until the political changes of 1989. For nearly forty years, the company mass-produced models for the populist market, and their products remained basically unchanged rather than establishing new automobile benchmarks.
It wasn’t until 1987 that production began to grow again, when Škoda introduced the Favorit model. This car was a major step forward for the company although it was still very dated when compared with western European vehicles. With the ending of communist rule, a new market economy began to emerge and the Czech Republic government and Škoda management began to search for a strong foreign partner capable of making the company competitive in an international market-place. Somewhat ironically, after the rapid decline of the company under German occupation, the government agreed to a joint venture with the German Volkswagen Group, and the company that we know today began life in April 1991. The Favorit was revamped when Volkswagen took a controlling interest and renamed the Škoda Felicia, but by the late 1990s, the company had introduced three brand new vehicles on to the market.
Without doubt, Škoda has returned to its former glory. The models that it produces today are every bit as good as any other mainstream manufacturer. They share common platforms, engines and gearboxes with many of the other brands within the VW Group such as Audi, SEAT and Volkswagen itself. In some respects, Škoda cars are actually considered superior to others from the VW Group, and generally represent better value for money. The Škoda marque is also innovative and dares to be different. Their new Superb model has a dual boot opening whereby the luggage area can either open as a traditional boot lid or alternatively open as a hatchback. Škoda cars have a good pedigree as the other marques within the Volkswagen group are Audi, SEAT, VW, Bentley, Bugatti and Lamborghini!
Gone are the days when people laughed at a Škoda. Today many models are the envy of other brands and with more exciting developments on the horizon, the marque is surely here to stay. Incidentally, the Laurin & Klement name can still be found on top of the range Škoda Octavias and bicycles can be bought through dealers although these do come at a premium price!