April’s Car Makers Premier League (based on the SMMT figures for UK new car registrations in April 2009) shows a distinct lack of consistency. Apart from the disaster otherwise known as Renault (still rooted to the bottom) with a pretty spectacular 63% drop in registrations only Mercedes have maintained the same position as last month, firmly dug in at number 7 with a relatively respectable 19% drop. The other consistent performer is Hyundai, up from the number two position last month to head the pack and blow away the competition with an amazing 20% increase in new car registrations.
The headline average is a 24% drop in new car registrations year-on-year and, as always some are doing better than others. Kia, last month’s leaders have slipped to sixth position with a 16% drop. Ford has bucked the trend with just under 4% less registrations than April 2008 shifting 24,579 units just 919 fewer than last year and moving up from 5th to 2nd in the process. The other big volume car maker, GM’s Vauxhall has not fared so well dropping one place to 11th with a 22% drop. Surprises include VW who have dropped seven places to 13th with a 25% reverse and Nissan who have leapt from 19th to 3rd with a decent 5% drop in registrations (from a 47% drop in March).
This month we have lost Suzuki, Seat and Land Rover who have been relegated because their April registration figures have taken them out of the top 20. Taking their places are Skoda, Volvo and Jaguar. Although their overall registrations of 2,433 bring Skoda back into the top 20 this still represents a whopping 41% drop in sales on this time last year so doesn’t give them much to shout about.
A mixed bag but an excellent month for Hyundai, Ford and Nissan who have out-performed the market by some distance.
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This months Car Maker in Focus is….
The genesis of the Czech Skoda brand as we know it today came in 1987 with the Favorit model. The Favorit’s appearance was designed by Italian design company Bertone. With some motor technology licensed from western Europe, but still using the Škoda designed 1289 cc engine, Škoda engineers succeeded in designing a car comparable to western production. The technological gap was still there, but began closing rapidly. The Favorits were very popular in Czechoslovakia, and other Eastern Block countries. They also sold fairly well in Western Europe, especially in the UK, being regarded as solid and reliable, as well as a good value. Their trim levels continued to improve and they were sold until the introduction of the Felicia in 1996.
The Velvet Revolution brought great changes to Czechoslovakia, and most industries were subject to privatisation. In the case of Škoda Automobile, the government brought in a strong foreign partner. Volkswagen was chosen in 1990 and in April, 1991, Škoda became the fourth brand of the Volkswagen Group.
VW was pitted against French car maker Renault, who lost because its strategic plan did not include producing high value models in the Czech factories: the Renault Twingo city car was set to be produced in the Škoda factories.
At the time the decision was made, privatization to a major German company was somewhat controversial. The subsequent fortunes of other Eastern-Bloc automobile manufacturers such as Lada-AutoVAZ , and of Škoda works itself, once Škoda auto’s parent company, could be argued to suggest that this was not necessarily a poor decision.
Backed by VW expertise and investments the design — both style and engineering — has improved greatly. The 1994 model Felicia was still based on the floorpan of the Favorit, but quality improvements helped and in the Czech Republic the car was as popular as it was value for money. The subsequent models Octavia and Fabia finally made their way to the demanding European Union markets. They are built on common Volkswagen Group floorpans. The latest Octavia is based on Golf Mk5 floorpan, and Fabia is based on the A0 floorpan. This is interesting, as it came out a year before VW released the new Polo that was also based on it.
The perception of Škoda in Western Europe has changed completely. As technical development progressed and attractive new models were brought to market, Škoda’s image was initially slow to improve. In the UK, a major turnabout was achieved with the ironic “It is a Škoda, honest” campaign, which was started in the early 2000s. In a 2003 advertisement on British television, a new employee on the production line is fitting Škoda badges on the car bonnets. When some attractive looking cars come along he stands back, not fitting the badge, since they look so good they cannot be Škodas. This market campaign worked by confronting Škoda’s image problem head-on — a tactic which marketing professionals regard as high risk. Before the advertising campaign, it was common to hear tour guides in Bratislava making jokes about the Škoda, saying “How do you double the value of a Škoda? Fill up the gas tank!” If the Fabia and Octavia had been anything less than excellent cars, the campaign might have backfired badly. By 2005, Škoda was selling over 30,000 cars a year in the UK, a market share of over 1%. For the first time in its UK history, a waiting list developed for deliveries by Škoda. Škoda owners in the UK have consistently ranked the brand at or near the top of the J.D. Power customer satisfaction survey during the 2000s.
Škoda now has several manufacturing and assembly plants, including one in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Škoda also has an assembly plant in the city of Aurangabad, in the western Indian state of Maharashtra which was established in 2001 as Škoda India Private Ltd. In 2006, Škoda presented its brand new model Roomster, which is a small MPV with a unique design, which reflects future trends. At the end of December 2006, Škoda also released the first official pictures of the new Fabia, a model that would replace Fabia in 2007.
Later in 2008, Škoda released the first pictures of the facelifted Octavia. Featuring new headlights, front grill/bumper as well as a slightly restyled rear and interior. The revised car also features a new selection of engines including the 1.4 TFSI and new common rail diesel engines.
In the UK Skoda currently have the following models in their product range;
* Fabia 2007 – (Second Generation) (Supermini)
* Octavia/Laura 2004 – (Second Generation)(Small family car)
* Roomster/Praktik 2006 – (Leisure activity vehicle)
* Superb 2008 – (Second Generation) (Large family car)
* Yeti 2009 (Mini SUV)