14 December 2011

Then and now: Skoda

Hard to believe that this year, it was 20 years ago when Skoda was taken over by Volkswagen. Since being taken under VW's wing, the Czech firm has come a long way.




IF you remember Skodas of old, the Estelle and Rapids will spring to mind. The cheap, rear engined budget motors from Eastern Europe. That were the butt of jokes by the media and the general public. It was that bad, as children were even teased at school had they arrived at the school gates in a Skoda their Mum or Dad drove.

Despite them being sneered at, these old Skodas had respect and a loyal following with enthusiasts and rally drivers. Today, they still have that cult following. It was likened to being a poor man's Porsche 911 with its rear engine, rear drive layout and tail happy handling they become renowned for.

The old Rapids and Estelles were also extremely successful on the rally circuit. Which the manufacturer has a proud and illustrious history in the motorsport. Most of its heritage lies with its triumphs in rallying, and it's a strong tradition that continues to thrive today.

But it wasn't until 1989 with the arrival of the Favorit. When developing the car, Skoda were only too aware of the market trends and buying patterns; as seen with the cars being made by their rivals in Western Europe. The ageing Estelle and Rapids were living on borrowed time, and the Favorit couldn't have come any sooner.


The Favorit was a radical departure for Skoda, albeit a welcomed one. The first car that was a front engined, front-wheel-drive hatchback. Compared to other keenly priced motors from Eastern Europe, like the Lada Samara and Yugo Sana, the Skoda was a cut above its rivals. When lined up against those from Western Europe, the Favorit was likened to as a cheap and practical runabout.

The Favorit was a fine handling car with the suspension and chassis set up tuned by Porsche. The front engined, front-wheel-drive set up meant it had better traction and roadholding off the line than its rear-engined, rear drive ancestors. With positive reviews by the motoring press and customer satisfaction from their owners, the Favorit did a great job in saving Skoda. It was the right car that arrived at the right time. Or was it?

In 1991, Skoda Auto was bought out by Volkswagen and as they say, the rest is history. But it wasn't until seven years later, when the first new car was made by Skoda under VW's parentage with the Octavia in 1998. Producing Germanic cars but without the Germanic price tags. Soon after, Skoda's line up of cars have expanded with the Fabia, the Superb, but most recently with the Yeti and the Roomster.

Since being part of the Volkswagen Group along with Audi, SEAT, Bentley, Lamborghini and Bugatti. It has been a success story for Skoda as the Czech manufacturer has gone from strength to strength. Year on year, sales of Skoda's cars have increased and their market share has grown - particularly in Western Europe. Cars like the award winning Yeti and Superb, have been highly rated by the motoring press and buyers alike.

Their more recent cars have become popular with buyers who have quality and value for money at the top of their list; but not necessarily caring about image or what badge it wears. But Skoda itself has a growing fan base. Today, Skodas are only sneered at and dismissed by a minority, who are more than likely to be foolish badge snobs.

Volkswagen has worked hard in shrugging off the Skoda jokes. By successfully challenging and changing the public's perception of the Czech brand. Nobody laughs and points at people who are seen driving a Skoda today. They're a creditable manufacturer like the established rivals in Europe such as Ford,  Peugeot, Fiat and Renault.

It's certain that there's a bright future ahead for Skoda.

Skodas of today like the Octavia, are a far cry from their older cars before Volkswagen's takeover in 1991.

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