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Czech the new kid on the block

The Czech carmaker has just begun sales here with its Octavia and Roomster. Skoda believes there are many similarities between the two countries and their car consumers, making Australia — with close to 50 car brands competing for one million sales — an ideal launch pad for a global approach by the value brand in the giant Volkswagen empire.

“Here is tough,” Volkswagen Group Australia managing director Jutta Dierks says. “It is competitive. If they can have success here, they can try the American market.”

Dierks worked for more than two years on the plan to put Skoda back into local showrooms for the first time since the 1970s and says the company is happy to take chances with its model line-up and marketing work.

“Skoda is prepared to be adventurous here, and even to make mistakes,” she says.

However, Dierks stresses the effort in Australia is not just an experiment and Skoda is aiming for a profitable long-term operation. She adds: “This is not just a pilot program — Skoda is still here for a long-term commitment. They are not after big volume. But they want to build the brand, test what works and what doesn't work. At the end of the day, of course they would like volume, too.”

Dierks says there are plans for extra models in coming years and believes the large Superb luxury car would be perfect for Australia.

“We still like big cars here,” she says. “But first we want to establish Roomster and Octavia.”

Skoda is in the early stages of cementing its dealer network, which will be kept small with probably one or two dealers less than needed, to ensure a good response, Dierks says.

However, Skoda franchises will not be handed just to existing Volkswagen dealers.

“Of those we have already chosen, two are not Volkswagen dealers,” Skoda boss Matthew Weisner says. “We are looking for particular qualities, not necessarily the Volkswagen link.”

The brand will emphasise its European heritage in a selective way, but will emphasise the Volkswagen DNA to boost consumer confidence.