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New SUVs could double Skoda sales in Australia

A planned fleet of new SUVs could double Skoda’s sales in Australia, with the seven-seat Kodiaq the first in a number of new models designed to attract customers from European and Japanese brands.

Speaking at this week’s launch of the Fabia Monte Carlo, Skoda’s local boss, Michael Irmer, told more SUVs would follow the all-new Kodiaq, with that model simply the first salvo in the brand’s battle for conquest sales in Australia.

Skoda Australia’s sales, while increasing year-on-year, still numbered less than 5,000 in 2015, but the brand’s local management expects that number to increase significantly with the addition of SUVs to its fleet.

“It is safe to say that with the SUVs coming into the portfolio, we will lose the dependency on the troubled passenger car segment… and we will grow in the SUV market,” Mr Irmer said.

The next one is the new Yeti, and then there are more things in the planning that I can’t talk about yet, they are a bit too far away.

“If you look at some brands that brought out a range of SUVS, what has that done to its sales? Suddenly those brands are selling more than 50 per cent of their volume in SUVs.

“The safe thing to assume is that we are going to grow – at what rate and at what pace, the customers will decide.”

Asked whether there were other SUV-based vehicles in the pipeline, Mr Irmer said: “Yes. The next one is the new Yeti, and then there are more things in the planning that I can’t talk about yet, they are a bit too far away.”

Skoda also used the media briefing to emphatically rule out a shift to online-only sales, with Mr Irmer declaring “the anonymity of an internet shop” unsuitable for a new car purchase.

“I personally believe that the dealership – that physical place to go to and have someone to talk to – is important,” he said.

“This is such an expensive purchase in your life, it’s the second most expensive thing you buy after the house, and you just don’t want to buy it off the internet and end up in the anonymity of an internet shop.”

The idea of replacing a traditional dealer network with online sales has been embraced by new entrants like Tesla – which sells all its vehicles directly to its customers online – as well as established players, like Subaru, which offered its BRZ sports coupe online, rather than through its existing dealer network.

But it’s unlikely the Volkswagen Group will be following that trend in the near future, with local management insisting a personal touch is imperative when selling cars.

“I don’t want to say never. But when someone buys a vehicle today, the technology that their old car has, versus what their new car has - it is like chalk and cheese,” Mr Irmer said.

“It requires an explanation. Car buyers are not all automotive experts.”

His position follows an unprecedented global investment in Skoda’s dealer network, with an international rebranding, including in Australia, well underway. The process, which began in 2013, is expected to conclude by the end of 2017.

“The brand has started what is anticipated to be the biggest automotive rebranding effort ever undertaken in the automotive space,” Mr Irmer said.

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