Škoda by Stefani

Former Škoda designer, Jozef Kabaň has been in the news of late, but what of his successor at Mladá Boleslav?

The man himself – twice. (c) Škoda-storyboard.com

It’s two years since Jozef Kabaň left Škoda to be subsumed into the shadows at Rolls Royce (will we see or hear from him again? Well, yes as he’s now back with VW…) leaving the gap to be filled by German-born Oliver Stefani. In that time, he’s had plenty to get stuck into, Škoda Auto A.S. becoming rather prolific in pumping out model after model and whilst Kabaň’s input is obviously still there, Stefani’s style is now beginning to bear fruit. Quite abundantly.

Being a part of the Volkswagen team since 2002, his last position in Germany was Head of Exterior Design. Having significant inputs to the likes of the Up!, Polo, new (dead) Beetle, Jetta, Tiguan not to mention the newly launched Golf and I.D., a harsh critic might cry ‘boring’ but most of these cars sell by the proverbial bucket load. That’s his plan with the Czech marque too.

Being interested in sketching from an early age, but not cars but cartoons, Disney in particular. Only when seeing VW internship drawings at an exhibition inspired Stefani to do the same, hitting like a “bolt from the blue –  car design found me.” Studying at Braunschweig then Pasadena, California followed by three years at Sitges European Design in Spain. “I’ve never regretted that move into design.

His very first job given to him by boss, fellow German Bernard Maier was not the Vision X but the almost finished Kamiq. “The front of the Kamiq required alterations. It didn’t sit right with the top brass. It was this that actually inspired the Vision X” states Stefani. With the Kamiq all but complete, Stefani studied the options and found a simple answer: turn the headlight upside down. “The running light is at the top, the main unit underneath. The Kodiaq and Karoq are the other way round. The difficulty being the size of the unit, it’s intricacies proving hard to produce that small.

Hang on, where’s the pen and paper? (c) Škoda-storyboard.com

Seemingly a jovial sort, Stefani grins and chuckles a lot when asked on several matters. “The Kamiq is a Crossover, not an SUV.” Along with “In the Volkswagen group we have access to fashioning very precise things” alluding to bodywork creases, those headlights and also informs on the change from badge to wording on new Škoda’s rears. “With the canon atop the Š (an engineering nightmare, apparently) we pronounce it Schkoda. In China (potentially a huge market) they don’t really recognise the badge. In fact lots of people don’t so we considered writing out the word, being proud to be a Czech company. And the winged arrow stays on the front.

Returning to the Vision X, Škoda’s glimpse into an electrified future, Stefani explains the similarities and differences with “I had six months to sort the Kamiq and then Vision X. The latter being heavily related to the former with additional width, then traditional ways; big wheels, low roof, small glass area. With the Czech Republic having history in the crystal glass industry we were keen to use and re-enforce their use in Vision X. Adding Flex Green paintwork makes it fresh as well as striking.” Stefani started on 1st September 2017 and got the Vision X to Geneva ‘18. Impressive speed.

Now a Czech resident, this allows Stefani more time to spend with his hundred plus multinational design team and also the on-site museum at Mladá-Boleslav where he can wallow in history and gain some inspiration. He tells us his favourite car in the museum is this, the Popular Monte Carlo.

Popular Monte-Carlo – “elegant, sporting, dynamic, level of craftsmanship” – Stefani’s words. (c) Škoda-storyboard.com

The model in question heralds from 1937, the more basic model line inaugurated the year before. This two seater coupé underwent careful restoration after being found ‘in a state of disrepair’. With a 1.4 litre, four cylinder engine, three speed ‘box above the rear axle and 31 bhp, was good enough for 110Kmh and a class win in the 1936 Monte-Carlo rally. Win on Sunday…

With only seventy models being produced, 24 Roadsters with less equipment (a la Porsche), 17 ‘more comfortable’ Roadsters with wind-up windows rather than sidescreens, 23 coupés, two convertibles, two chassis for racing and two bare chassis for ‘opulent underpinnings.’ These last two were luxuriously trimmed and offered as a gift to the 14 year old head of Yugoslavia King Peta II Karađorđević. One wonders if he used them; or what happened to them.

To the future, and Oliver sounds as bright and forward thinking as one would expect a chief designer; “For the past twenty years we’ve had little but steel, rubber and glass. With technology we can examine, expand on and utilise these to create better things, not just cars but enhancing life. Take Prague; a beautiful and historic city but with vibrancy and modern ideas. That combination of tradition and modernity really strikes deep and we can use that here.

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People should buy a Škoda not just because it’s a great deal and car but also for the love of design and the depth of skill that goes into making them. We can push that forward with future models even more so.

Concluding now with his take on the design office, “We encourage, we don’t throw ideas away early and allow an idea to grow. We have to keep in mind the brand but not be too strict because there’s always something new. There’s plenty more to come from Škoda.

This piece uses interviews from auto express and the Škoda-Storyboard 

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

8 thoughts on “Škoda by Stefani”

  1. A visit to Prague’s cubist museum (spoiler: the café tables are seriously compromised, being round) is actually quite illuminating on Skoda design: it’s clear to me that the current range draws heavily on that heritage. It would be interesting to know why they don’t make more of the link, other than references to the Bohemian glassware tradition, in interviews and publicity…

    1. That’s a good point and I hadn’t made that connection until you mentioned it. (A second recommendation for the museum, incidentally, if anyone finds themselves in that neck of the woods, although I am ashamed to say I didn’t even notice the circular tables until your comment prompted me to check my photos. It’s true – although in my defence, it only afflicts the external tableware, inexplicably…)

      I had a chance to study the Vision E unencumbered by the usual motor show crowds in VW’s exhibition space in Berlin earlier this year. For a modern-day concept with production proclivities it’s pretty striking in the flesh and the crystal motifs work well, although I wonder if they might not become a little strained with repeated deployment. The surfacing is a cut or two above the current VAG fare (although how much of that will be lost in the transition to production is a big question) and generally speaking it was notable how good it looked in comparison to the production Audis and Seats around it.

    2. Given the context, I feel compelled to mention that the Vision E was still designed under Jozef Kaban.

      On a side note, I found it fascinating to learn that Skoda had to employ the services of all Bohemian companies specialising in glass cutting during the creation of Vision E. The results are rather impressive, when studied up close.

  2. Thanks for profiling the new man at Škoda, Andrew. Is it too much to hope for a return of some flair and individualism, in the mould of the Yeti and Roomster? It must be more than a bit limiting for any designer to have his talents confined to nose and tail ornamentation and DLO tweaks to genetic VW Group designs.

  3. Thank you for introducing us to Škoda’s new signing. I’m quite optimistic about Škoda’s forthcoming designs. The theme with two frontal horizontal fascias used by VW during Stefani’s tenure is something I wish to see more of, especially if accompanied by the disappearance of foglight grilles.
    One thing I’m not looking forward to, however, is seeing the brand spelled out across the hatch/bootlid. It might help brand recognition (does it though? The badge is a distinctive one.) but certainly it is fussy. In fact I’d like to see a modern take on the small, tight, off-centre lettering used, for example, by Jaguar, Renault and Volvo until the 1990s.

    1. Hi Jeroen. Interestingly, before the recent adoption of the widely spaced S K O D A badging across the Bootle, Škoda used exactly the badge you describe on Chinese market models, where the company’s name recognition was not strong. Here’s the 2017 Octavia hatchback, compared with its European equivalent:

      Intriguingly, the Chinese market facelift to that model also included new horizontal tail lights. Are these perceived as more “premium” than the square original items?

    2. Hi Daniel. Well spotted! This prompted me to look up the previous generation Octavia, and I found that the Chinese lettering used to take the ‘prime’ spot on the upper left. (http://chinaautoweb.com/blog1/wp-content/gallery/skoda-octavia_2/skoda-octavia-005.jpg)
      It turns out that Škoda used small lettering more often and more recently than I remembered!

      You’re right about the tail lights: the horizontal ones point to those on the Superb and the Audi A4 and lose the affinity with the lower models adopting the square shape. They also supplant that nice inward-facing fold of the boot lid.

  4. Keep them coming Andrew. I’m learning a lot by reading yours and others writings. I don’t subscribe to any car mags now, I get my fill from DTW. 👍🏻

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