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Skoda Rapid key to sales growth

There's a new nose, complete new tail section and revised interior when it becomes available late 2013.

Key to the growth will be the brand's mid-size car plan for Australia. The new mid-size car is expected to be the slingshot to propel the Czech company - and Volkswagen Group member - into a new sales dimension.

But the Rapid - initially a Mazda6 and Honda Euro rival that has an unusual liftback tail - isn't the only shot in the cannon. Matthew Wiesner, head of Skoda Australia, says the Rapid will be assisted by a new (and larger) Octavia range next year and by a new-look Superb.

Rapid gets here in March next year and though no pricing has been discussed, it's expected to land from about $21,000. Wiesner says he has to find the increment for Rapid that will sit between Fabia (priced from $18,990) and Octavia (from $24,990). 

He's not talking pricing yet but it suggests Rapid can start about $21,000 - perhaps lower - to take on an extremely competitive market segment that includes Australia's top-selling small car, the Mazda3 (from $20,330). 

There's also pressure from the Holden Cruze ($21,490), Toyota Corolla ($20,990), Mitsubishi Lancer ($21,880), Hyundai Elantra ($20,590) and Subaru Impreza at $23,990. But missing from the list is the Volkswagen Golf.  

Wiesner says he doesn't see it being a head-on rival, even though Golf is priced from $21,990 for the 77TSI that has the same drivetrain as the Rapid 77TSI. "I don't think many Golfs are sold at that price,'' he says, "as buyers opt for the more expensive models. 

We can't really compare a hatchback with the Rapid's liftback and sedan styling, so I don't see Golf as a competitor.'' The Rapid may also take some time to "bed into'' the Australian market. "We won't really see how effective the car will be to us until 2014,'' Wiesner says. "That will give it a full year. I believe it has the potential to overtake Octavia as our best selling car.''

Rapid will come with three engines - 77TSI turbo-petrol 1.2-litre with a manual gearbox; 90TSI 1.4-litre turbo-petrol with a dual-clutch DSG auto; and the sole diesel, the 66TDI which will be available with either transmission. "The boot in the Rapid is huge,'' says Wiesner. "Almost as big as the Octavia.'' "It's not a small car, either. It's 4.4m long. "Our value offering is space.

The Rapid will have a very big cabin and luggage area. Interior space is Skoda's hallmark.'' Despite its dimensions, the Rapid is based on the Volkswagen Polo platform, albeit with width and length extensions. The Rapid liftback - which, unusually, looks like a sedan, will be joined later by a hatchback model which is dubbed Spaceback. This is expected in Australia up to a year after the Liftback launch. There will be no wagon version as Skoda's smaller Fabia and the Octavia both have wagon models. 

Octavia grows in size to almost rival Superb, says Wiesner. It will be first shown at this year's Paris motor show in September. The Superb will get a major refresh next year to distance itself from the new Octavia. There's a new nose, complete new tail section and revised interior when it becomes available late 2013. But the Superb will enter its second generation only a year later, in 2014. Wiesner says it was vital that the new Octavia and the Superb were separated in appearance.