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