Our editor ponders awhile on the remarkable turnabout of Škoda from a maker of rear engined runabouts to an almost aspirational purchase...
Only today I was in my local post office waiting in the queue when I overheard two ladies talking about cars. One was discussing about her company car being due to be replaced and how she was waiting to see what would be on the list. Her friend mentioned the FIAT Panda to which lady number one dismissed that with ‘oh dear me no, my Husband would murder me for putting a FIAT on the drive’ – my eyebrow raised so high that Roger Moore would have approved. Just before the cashier beckoned her to the counter the woman in question quipped about she adored the Skoda Yeti, I subconsciously nodded in concurrence. I thought nothing about this until my own transaction was completed and I couldn’t help thinking – who would have thought… a Skoda being aspirational.
Being on the wrong side for Forty, my early memories of the aforementioned Skoda conjure images of cheap little saloon cars with the engine in the wrong place often being badly driven by elderly people. Taking this into account, I also admired their dogged reliability in countless rally events, their fingers up to conforming to the norm so far as engineering mattered and thought the Rapid Coupe was pretty erm… pretty. Often as a pup, I would cycle a good few miles into the Suffolk countryside to visit a teeny tiny Skoda dealer in the hamlet of Hundon where I would always be treated nicely and be sent off with as many brochures and posters as a 13 year old could carry on a five speed Raleigh racer.
Not everyone saw the whole package though, a good friend even to this day suffered a fair share of bullying owing to fact his mother would often chauffeur him to our Comprehensive School in her powder blue Estelle. His father ran a new Montego that never functioned properly but that little Skoda would pop and fizz into life first time and every-time. As I matured and went into the car game after leaving school, I never heard a bad word said about Skoda or indeed its dealers from anyone I had spoken to who owned one. This summed up the old Eastern Bloc gang in general. FSO along with Lada and Yugo all excelled where many mainstream manufacturers often failed when it came to customer care. They all sold via a network of hard-working family orientated dealers who sold a piece of their reputation along with every car.
Once the Berlin wall fell down it wasn’t long before Skoda were the remaining player in the UK and once V.A.G saw the potential and became the incumbent, their range became more socially acceptable with the Favorit and Fabia models. The original Octavia launched a while back became the mini cab of the millions up and down the land selling by the thousand. Here was a car that not only offered serious value for money and room for five, it would also go the distance thanks to rock solid build quality and the remarkable Volkswagen ‘PD’ diesel engine. So we now arrive with the current range of cars which in my book are pretty much alright. The Yeti looks funky and outstrips supply, the new Octavia looks seriously businesslike and from personal experience -is refreshingly effective while the Superb is a genuine antidote to an Audi, a motor befitting its moniker.
So good is Skoda engineering in the Czech republic, they produce body shells for other cars in the V.A.G Group including Bentley Motors. Of course, today their cars are not cheap… but nor are they expensive, priced on the right side of competetive best suits the range. They do remarkably well in the UK especially in fleet sales thanks to some clever and memorable advertising, decent four square dealers offering a pleasant attitude but most important of all – a range of talented cars with rock solid build quality that no longer finds the owner having to justify why they purchased it. So are they bordering on the truly aspirational? possibly, maybe and in these uncertain financial times I cant see why they shouldn’t be.
Brand snobbery still exists of course but everyone and I do mean just that, is looking for a deal. Fleet buyers are now wringing every bit of value out of their assets and looking to run the cars longer than the usual 3 year affair. If one thing positive has come from this financial detritus we live in, its that car makers have to be more efficient, dealers must be more switched on and the cars themselves must go the distance – Skoda’s hour has possibly come.
He who laughs last as they say…..
Oh… if you fancy another laugh, here’s the Editor in the Octatavia VRS advert