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Skoda a joke no more

And this time, it is determined not to be a laughing stock.

After a 24-year absence, Skoda cars return to showrooms.

Previously, it was a state-owned brand in the now defunct communist Czechoslovakia, where cars were built by prison inmates. Imports stopped in 1983 as sales dried up due to poor quality and outdated engineering.

The new Skoda, from what is now called the Czech Republic, is wholly owned by VW and rates near the top of buyer surveys in Britain.

It is the largest carmaker in central Europe, and Australia is its 100th export market.

Skoda Australia head Matthew Wiesner said they were prepared for a tough battle, but believed buyers would be attracted to the idea of European cars at Japanese prices.

“Quite frankly, we understand that Australians are not waiting for another car brand. There are already 40 something in the market,” he said.

“But they may want to consider another that is ambitious and passionate and a performer in other places.

“We think we've got a nice mix for this market here. As a new player coming in, we need a very strong price-value equation.”

He said surveys found that almost 50 per cent of potential buyers were aware of the Skoda name.

“That was a pretty good result, and showed there is some understanding that Skoda is a car brand.”

Though a lot of people had negative memories of the “bad old days,” nearly 70 per cent of those who knew of Skoda would either buy one or consider one.

“That was way stronger than we had expected,” he said.

“A lot of Japanese brands are trying to become more European, and hopefully we will provide an alternative. Ultimately, it's a matter of getting this brand established in one of the most competitive markets in the world.”

The first models are a small wagon called the Roomster ($26,990 to $29,290) and the Octavia mid-size sedan and wagon ($29,990 to $39,490).

Skoda also made its debut at the Australian International Motor Show last week, displaying the Yeti “soft-roader” SUV which is likely to be sold here in the future.

It is starting with just 10 dealers in Australia; including Brisbane, Gold Coastand and Sunshine coast; but that number is expected to double in a year.

VW's Spanish subsidiary, Seat, attempted to get established in Australia but quit in 1999 after years of poor sales.

VW Group Australia managing director Jutta Dierks said Skoda wanted to “prove a point” here.