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Thinking small

The VW-owned Czech brand has given its strongest hint yet that it will take on the small car market in Australia next year as it looks for a way to increase its volume after what has been a mediocre rebirth of the brand in this country.

Skoda has been struggling as a niche player in the increasingly crowded Down Under market - its sales volume so far this year of just 575 units puts it behind its established European rivals Alfa Romeo, Saab, Fiat and Jaguar. Skoda sells the Octavia liftback and wagon, Roomster hatch/people mover and Scout crossover wagon.

An upbeat Skoda Australia boss Matthew Wiesner says the brand will weather the financial crisis and should finish the year with about 850 sales, which is well down on its earlier market penetration forecast.

He admits the range is predominately top heavy and needs an entry in the light or small car market to increase volume.

"The next step is to broaden our range; obviously we need a smaller entry car, that's where the volume will come from," he told CarsGuide.

The availability of a direct shift manual/automatic transmission (DSG) across the range is also expected to win the hearts of buyers, especially women.

He revealed at the launch of the Octavia RS Tdi this week he had meet with Skoda officials at the Paris Motor Show - the one hour meeting extending to three hours as he successfully argued the case that Australia needed to diversify.

The small Fabia, a five-door hatch and wagon, will likely go sale here by the third quarter next year to take on the likes on Peugeot's 207/307, Honda Jazz and Citroen C3/C4.

"It's looking (the arrival of the Fabia) more likely. We had a good and long meeting in Paris. We are now down to talking about models, transmissions, engines and specification," Wiesner said.

But price may be the sticking point.

`We would love to get the Fabia at $19,990, that seems to be the starting point nowadays, but the spread of models will fit in the low to mid $20,000 bracket."

And a slow down in production at the Skoda plant near Prague because of a fall in demand for new cars in Europe due to the economic crisis may work in Australia's favour, he said. It would free up space on the production line for right-hand drive models.

Mr Wiesner says Australia still has its hand up for Skoda's forthcoming Yeti, the brand's first proper SUV.

Meanwhile, Skoda Australia is planning to freshen and widen its existing line up next year.

From February, the existing petrol Octavia RS will come with the availability of a manual/automatic DSG gearbox for the first time; it and the diesel version will gain audio controls and DSG paddle shift mounted on the steering wheel.

Skoda will add the larger four-cylinder Superb mid year and follow that with a V6 flagship model at the end of next year - a saloon which will be optioned with a self parking guidance system.

Meanwhile a restyled Octavia, shown at the recent Paris Motor Show, will arrive in March and will feature a new 1.8-litre engine and a seven-speed DSG transmission A new RS model, based on the new Octavia, will come later in the year but retain its six-speed DSG gearbox, not the seven-speed which will be fitted to base models.


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