It Should Have Been Simple

The 1996 Octavia should have set the template for all future Škoda models, but it didn’t turn out that way.

Image: auto-data.net

In a piece I recently penned on another Volkswagen Group model, I opined that the group’s four mass-market brands are insufficiently well differentiated from each other, so the scope of their market coverage in Europe is narrower than it should be and there is a greater than optimal overlap between brands and models, inevitably leading to some cannibalisation of sales. Ideally, their market positioning should be broadly as follows:

  • Audi: premium luxury and sporting.
  • Volkswagen: semi-premium, nominally classless, but certainly perceived as upmarket of mainstream rivals.
  • SEAT: youthful, stylish, fashion-conscious but not too avant-garde or left-field.
  • Škoda: budget, practical, strong value proposition, car as domestic appliance.

How might we currently score each brand against these criteria?

Audi is probably the most carefully nurtured and coherently and consistently defined brand within the Volkswagen Group stable. It is now widely perceived as being on equal terms with BMW and Mercedes-Benz as regards office car park bragging rights, except perhaps at the very top of the range, where the A8 still struggles to match the prestige of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Hence, I will award 9/10 with a stable outlook.

Volkswagen’s image has largely weathered the ‘Dieselgate’ scandal and some pretty middling scores for reliability over recent years. That said, its latest models, particularly the ID range of EVs, seem to be of significantly lower material and build quality than earlier models, probably in an attempt to offset the greater cost of the new electric architecture. In the longer term, this poses a significant risk to the brand’s semi-premium status, especially as the Korean marques seem now to be at least its equal in this regard. So, it’s 7/10, but with a negative outlook.

SEAT has long been Volkswagen Group’s problem child. It has been reinvented so many times that the market is largely bewildered as to what it is intended to be. How does the ‘Spanish Alfa Romeo’ tag sometimes carelessly bandied about square with models like the 1996 Alhambra large MPV, the 2004 Audi A4 facelift exhumed as the 2008 Exeo saloon and estate, or the unfortunate Toledo, a badge applied at different times to a medium-sized five-door liftback, four-door saloon, medium-sized MPV and budget small five-door liftback. Now SEAT finds itself competing with its spin-off Cupra sporting sub-brand. So, it gets 5/10 with a negative outlook.

Image: auto-data.net

Škoda is where this sort of analysis gets really tricky. In isolation, it has been highly successful in delivering near-Volkswagen levels of quality and specification for a significant discount. As the company’s reputation improved out of all recognition under VW ownership, the stigma of owning a Škoda has been transformed into a form of inverted snobbery that says: ‘I’m too smart to pay up for a fancy badge.’

This is great for Škoda, but a threat to Volkswagen’s own sales, particularly at the lower end of its range. The Polo might have a slightly more polished feel than the Fabia, but really, who is going to notice, other than car journos who have the luxury to ponder such fine detail. Everyone else should take the Fabia and pocket the change. So, on its own terms, Škoda is a 10/10 but, as part of a broader Volkswagen Group market strategy, it has to be a 2/10.

All of the above is a roundabout way of introducing the subject of today’s piece, the 1996 Škoda Octavia. After five years’ ownership of the formerly failing Czech automaker, the Octavia was Volkswagen’s first wholly designed and engineered Škoda model(1).

The concept behind it was remarkably simple: take the basic underpinnings of the Volkswagen Golf Mk4(2), lengthen the floorpan behind the rear axle line to increase interior and boot-space and also facilitate an estate car much longer and more capacious than the Golf estate, dress it with a rather plain if quite contemporary looking body and interior, and it’s good to go.

Image: automaniac.org

Volkswagen knew that it would be moving the Golf significantly upmarket in Mk4 guise, mainly thanks to a very high-quality new interior that would reset the class standard for such a car, so it didn’t feel that the Octavia would threaten its position as leader of the ‘Golf Class’. Although the Octavia was a very acceptable looking design, there were a number of subliminal signs that it was positioned downmarket of the Golf.

Apart from the chrome grille surround (to which we will return), there was no external brightwork and the light units at both ends, especially the rather small tail lights, were strictly functional looking. The plain plastic ‘dustbin lid’ wheel covers on the entry-level model were as style-free as possible, and the car’s perimeter was protected by a black plastic rubbing strip. Overall, it was practical but resolutely unglamorous.

The rectangular front grille with its prominent chrome surround might have appeared a touch ostentatious on what was clearly a budget car, but some suggested that it was subliminally emulating Volvo’s visage. At the time, the Swedish manufacturer was attempting to move from its traditional ‘resolutely practical family holdall’ market positioning to something more aspirational and sporting, so Škoda saw an opportunity to step into the vacancy.

Image: pieseauto.ro

Inside, the dashboard, while ergonomically fine, was rather old-fashioned looking, with a broad, bulbous cowl that stretched across from the door pillar to beyond the centre stack. The latter contained a single-DIN audio unit (if fitted) and simple rotary controls for the heating and ventilation.

The whole lot was mainly constructed of hard plastic mouldings in shades of grey, with no sign of any soft-touch slush-moulded surfaces. The only non-functional embellishment was a slightly tacky plastic-chrome ‘Octavia’ badge placed slightly randomly above the centre ventilation outlets. The interior fixtures and upholstery were perfectly acceptable but were nowhere near the standard being specified for the forthcoming Golf Mk4.

Mechanically, however, the Octavia shared everything, including a broad range of petrol and diesel engines, with its Volkswagen Group stablemates. It was at least as well built(3) as anything emanating from Wolfsburg or Ingolstadt and its styling gave it the look and feel of a car from the larger D-segment, such as a Mondeo or Vectra, which made it appear to be excellent value for money.

Image: parkers.co.uk

By the time the Octavia made it to British and Irish shores in 1998, the old-fashioned looking dashboard had been replaced by something more contemporary, with a much smaller cowl directly over the instrument binnacle. A more comprehensive facelift in 2000 saw the rectangular headlamps replaced with larger trapezoidal items and updated tail lights with twin (rather than single) clear sections for the indicators and reversing lights.

The facelifted Octavia brought 4×4 versions of the hatchback and estate to the market, as well as the sporting RS(4) version with its potent 1,781cc DOHC 20-valve turbocharged petrol engine. This produced maximum power of 178bhp (133kW) and torque of 173 lb ft (235Nm) which was good for a 0 to 60mph (97km/h) time of 7.6 seconds and top speed of over 140mph (226km/h). The lack of much external (or internal) decoration other than a discreet badge, front air dam and rear spoiler, turned the vRS into the perfect ‘Q’ car, for both petrolheads and the police that hunted them down.

Image: topgear.com

And so the Octavia’s relentless push upmarket began, taking it (and the rest of Škoda’s range) far away from its budget car roots and firmly into the lower reaches of what should have been Volkswagen’s own ground. The Octavia Mk1 remained on the market until 2004 and total European sales were 587,124(5) units over seven years. As a Škoda fan, and former owner of a thoroughly likeable Fabia Mk1, I am happy to see the company do so well but wonder about how and why Volkswagen allowed it to flourish in this manner.

 (1) The 1994 Škoda Felicia was a heavily re-engineered and reskinned Favorit rather than a whole new model.

(2) Then in development and due to be launched in 1997.

(3) Many would claim better.

(4) In the UK and Ireland, the RS badge was cleverly reinterpreted to read vRS to avoid conflict with Ford, who used the RS badge on its sporting variants.

(5) Sales data from www.carsalesbase.com

Author: Daniel O'Callaghan

Shut-line obsessive...Hates rudeness, loves biscuits.

62 thoughts on “It Should Have Been Simple”

  1. Good morning, Daniel. With Audi it depends on the model. I think the more expensive models are on par with BMW and Mercedes Benz, but the Benz will remain the most prestigious. However, when I see an A1 or A3 I can’t help but think ‘Polo or Golf in a party dress’. Usually I prefer the Polo or Golf, depending on the generation of the car.

    Dieselgate never was a big issue for me personally. Volkswagen did something they weren’t supposed to do and they paid a huge price for it. The cost cutting on the Golf VIII and more so on the the ID models would actually prevent me from buying a Volkswagen.

    I have no clue what Seat and Cupra stand for and I see no value in either brand.

    Skoda’s push upmarket is remarkable. One wonders if there is room for another brand in the VAG group, below Skoda.

    1. The first gen A1 was a car with a severe identity crisis. For a girlie car it was too expensive, to be taken serious it was too cute and it lacked true halo models for far too long.
      While Mini established itself as the car for the well-heeled office woman and prevented the Tigra/Micra cuddly image desaster by providing Cooper versions from the beginning the A1 remained neither fish nor fowl. In addition the A1 was horrible to drive.
      I had several of them as loaners when my car was in for a service and all of them felt not like a grown up car but like a pure city runabout. I always felt severely uneasy at anything above 120 kph even in versions with the large two litre diesel that in theory were able to go considerably faster but in practice made you feel as if you’d fly off the road at any moment.
      The second gen A1 is a desaster. For the first time in more than forty years there’s an Audi without the trademark third side window merely for cost reasons, the whole thing looks and feels cheap and details like the ‘sport quattro’ gap at the bonnet’s leading edge are plain stupid.

      The first A3 was a cost conscious toe in the water test for market acceptability of an upmarket car in that class. With every consecutive generation the A3 moved into the direction of contrived youthfulness and fake sports.
      Still better than anything comparable made by Mercedes but that’s faint praise.

      The loss of quality in the current generatioin of VWs is shocking (not that Audi – or BMW or Mercedes . are any better). The reaction of the market forced VW to prepare a facelift for the Golf VIII that was not part of the original plan but should fix most of the quality problems, like the move from Golf 5 to 5.1 (6) did.

    2. +1 to what you’ve said, Freerk. The Volkswagen Group have explored launching a cheaper brand, but I don’t think there’s any money in it.

      The revised ID.3, with nicer materials, etc, is launched this Wednesday, so fingers crossed. I hope they do something with its range of colours, too.

      Re Daniel’s point about Dacia, there’s the Spring EV (yet to arrive in the UK, though). I think it has a small range to keep costs down.

      Diversifying beyond the SUV body style and making vehicles more affordable will depend on advances in battery technology and competition from places such as China.

    3. An important element of the ID.3’s update will be parts of tve rear lights on the hatch that are no longer fakes but actually emit light. Plus improvements in material quality.
      Can anybody imagine a Piech era VW with fake rear lights?

    4. Crikey – I didn’t realise they were non-functional. Mind you, MK3 Golfs had non-functional front sidelights and I recall Beetles had reversing lights which were only wired-up on higher-spec versions.

    5. Here’s the revised ID.3. It’s better – it’s gone from unacceptable to okay. I’d say it’s what one would have expected from the start, though and the prices will remain in fantasy land.

  2. Morning Daniel. Totally agree with you on how mixed up and overlapping VW Group’s marquees have become. Especially now with those ranges of SUVs that really are identical across the board.

    I always felt like cars such as the Octavia, Superb and that other one, the Rapid, should have been made as SEATs, with Skoda getting all the odd MPVs instead. Think of them as companion brands; want a stylish and sporty saloon, possibly for fleet work, but haven’t got Audi money? SEAT. Want a nice family car but can’t stretch to VW prices? Skoda.

  3. In an automotive landscape that only continues to seem dependent upon fielding a range of CUV’s, there is a real challenge involved in how to properly segment between the brands. You can only go so low in regards to specification these days, and try as you might, CUV and sporty don’t particularly jive together all that well. Where does that leave SEAT? CUV’s with body kits? Skoda? Exclusively cladded in gray plastic bits? In order to justify VW as “mid-tier” you almost have to have something naff baked into the Skodas, and SEAT’s current raison d’etre (sportiness) seems only suited to segments in decline.

  4. Volkswagen’s own sales, especially in the lower segments of its range, are probably being threatened by Skoda. However, EU emissions regulation will take the Polo and Fabia out of the range. The high price of batteries will then probably deprive Skoda of its only advantage in the group: lower labour costs.

    1. Good morning Martin. You make a good point about the cost of EV componentry. Given that Dacia now occupies the territory where the original Octavia sat, I wonder how that company will meet the challenge of the migration to EVs?

  5. It isn’t often I use the expression “game changer” when talking about cars, I prefer to save the use for cars that actually changed the game. But the Octavia truly was a game changer when it arrived, because of its unprecedented value for money. I simply couldn’t believe how they got away with it, the difference between the perceived bigger value vis à vis its lower price was the biggest cliff I had ever seen in my life. Here was a car slightly bigger than the Golf it was based on but sold to a price equivalent to that of the Polo. I just couldn’t believe how it could even be technically possible? And that without (seemingly) skipping on production quality. The cost of producing a car like the Golf or Octavia should be more or less the same, but if the Octavia could be sold 20% cheaper than the Golf, then one has to ask oneself; what really was the point of the Golf anyway? But the Octavia wasn’t really a threat to the Golf. What truly changed the game was comparing the Octavias value for money with other cars at the same price point, and there Volkswagen really had a slam dunk success. I thought, how could Citroen or Opel or Ford or Fiat possibly have anything against this threat?

    1. The reason for the mass development of Skoda owned by Wokswagen will probably be higher profitability. In Germany it is more constrained by unions and land ownership. Labour costs are much lower in the Czech Republic.

  6. By precedent,
    ‘Apart from the chrome grille surround (to which we will return), there was no external brightwork and the light units at both ends, especially the rather small tail lights, were strictly functional looking’

    The Mercedes Benz W124 in initial form with no brightwork apart from the stainless steel grille surround.

    1. They can’t seem to avoid the chrome trim around the DLO. From Skoda’s point of view, basing their brightwork aesthetic on the uber modernist W124 can’t be seen as bad.

    2. Hello David. Regarding the W124, with peerless engineering and design, and a brand image as strong as that of Mercedes-Benz in the 1980s, they didn’t need tinsel on their cars. What a shame the company wilfully abandoned that position sometime in the late 1990s.

  7. That´s a well-summarised boil-down of the Skoda situation. If you took the company badges off all of VAG´s cars you might be hard-pressed to objectively classify them back into groups corresponding much to VAG´s brands.
    The discussion here seemed to mostly focus on Audi. Looking at Skoda, you see a bunch of very nice-looking cars that don´t at all obviously seem inferior to VW. The L&Q versions are extremely comfortable and pleasingly trimmed and make the hard shiny, flashy look of top-end Audi relatively less appealing. Think comfortable boutique hotel versus an ostentatious and formal “six star” hotel. I have a neighbour with a Skoda CUV in metallic green and chrome trim. It suggests something of the sensible quality of an 80s Mercedes and equivalent VWs and Audis don´t.
    Apart from the problem of the VAG cars having far too similar styling, Skoda´s apparent quality is not visibly worse than other notionally superior VAG cars. And the ride and handling aspects are not apparent in the image. Where does Skoda fit on the ride/handling scale and what are the controls like?
    As I like to remind readers here there are three points on the brand triangle: prestige, sportiness and value. VAG has four and a half brands. That means one them will be impossible to position clear of the others at the best of times. Seat/Cupra is the one that has to go. Skoda needs to get back to the value position and VW should be put in the safe and comfy territory. For that advice, VAG are welcome to send me a consultancy remuneration.

    By the way: “girlie cars”? I think there might be another way to phrase that.

    1. Not to be contrarian, Richard, but where does that leave (historical) Citroën in your brand triangle?

    2. Historical Citroen (and some other brands) didn´t conform well to the brand triangle because the market was different then. Perhaps their problems were in part to the brand triangle logic snaring them. Their USP was comfort spread across the range value (2CV) to prestige (DS, XM). The BX and CX were more like value cars.

    3. Some brands fall outside of this definition, the Citroen brand has always been strong enough to include both the 2CV and DS in an entity of its own.

      But the triangle has been slightly skewed towards sportiness the last twenty years, I’d say Sport is the new Prestige? Outside of the Genesis brand and the Mercedes S-Class, everything seems to be sporty these days?

    4. VW : Value? Prestige?
      Audi: Prestige? Sportiness?
      Skoda: Value? Prestige?
      Seat: Value?
      Porsche: Sportiness. Prestige.
      Bentley: Sportiness. Prestige. Value?
      Lamborghini: Sportiness. Prestige?

      I mean there’s prestige in the brand names alone when it comes to Porsche, Bentley, and Lamborghini. Bentley is a value brand in the sense that the Flying Spur is good value for money, VW is capitalizing on the fact Bentley is an aspirational brand and gives the public a way to buy into that with not an overwhelming amount of money.

  8. Yes indeed this piece is well-written on Skoda.

    As another fan of Skoda, I do look forward for the brandname’s growth. It has evolved into serious business. The Koreans must have studied it well, and now finding themselves ahead of Skoda.

  9. I’d argue that Audi really is just as confused as the VW brand these days:

    – design: All historical design & styling traits – singleframe grille notwithstanding – have been abandoned; today’s supposed ‘iconic’ design being the E-tron GT, which literally is a Taycan in pseudo-futuristic baroque sheetmetal

    – perceived quality: Audi’s interiors are not even remotely the industry benchmark today, with cost-cutting evident even to casual observers

    – engineering: offering four-wheel drive is about as exclusive as offering four wheels today, at least in the upper regions of the market

    Range Rover does minimalist style much better these days; Genesis provides a driving environment more in keeping with Audi’s established values. What has Audi traded those abandoned qualities in for? I personally couldn’t tell.

    Skoda has alsonevolved significantly over time, sometimes owing to external, sometimes to internal factors, as can be pointed out analysing each chief designer’s tenure:

    Dirk van Braeckel:

    – the first Octavia et al were all about signifying high levels of quality, in utterly unpretentious style; a task DvB mastered to such an extent that he was rewarded with the post of Bentley chief designer

    Thomas Ingenlath:

    – under Ingenlath, and with Skoda well established as makers of high-quality-value-for-money-fare, the brand’s design became significantly more playful and adventurous, leading to creative halo models such as the Roomster and Yeti – which wouldn’t have suited any other brand within the VAG portfolio

    Józef Kaban:

    – due to the threat posed by Hyundai/Kia, Skoda was ordered to strive for more upmarket and sophisticated a flair, as symbolised by the Superb in particular; the risk of Skoda encroaching upon VW was deemed less dangerous than not providing an answer to the South Korean brands’ design offensive

    Oliver Stefani:

    – until last year, Stefani had simply continued applying the style established under his predecessor to any new model – until the arrival of last year’s Vision 7S, which suggests a repositioning of Skoda as another ‘the car as an appliance’ brand, stretching as far as a generic new logo and CI; the days of Skoda providing higher levels of design sophistication vis-à-vis VW are clearly numbered.

    1. That’s a nice summary of the evolution of Škoda design under each chief designer, thank you Christopher. The Vision 7S had passed me by. It’s pleasingly lacking in superfluous ornamentation:

  10. As I gather from car tests (with all the applicable caveats), Skoda is meant to be ultra-comfortable and practical – akin to Citroën without the quirks. A wilful exception to the “Ring-proven” norm. VW is the core of VAG, in the middle of everything: price, driving dynamics, performance. Seat, well: not even Seat knows and Cupra is the sporty offshoot of that. Only the Formentor seems to embody anything uniquely Cupra/Seat and is thus left withering on the vine. Audi spent the last 40 years clawing its way into the premium segment with great success and now seems a bit flustered: what to do now? Sporty? Premium premium? Ostentatious? Luxurious? Germans don’t do luxurious the way the Italians or British do (or the Japanese, but mostly for their home market). Like BMW, they seem to try to hide the emptiness with extreme visual aggression (and are showing signs of mercifully moving away from that again).

    Skoda’s repositioning seems to answer Ingvar’s question of how they got away with it: in the long run they didn’t, hence the move closer to VW in price.

    In the ID drama, interesting because it’s an automotive giant (and a complete market at that) trying to reinvent itself, I wonder how much autonomy each brand has. The IDs themselves are willfully different, yet try to cleave to the Volkswagen “sensible, just above average” mold with limited success. They tried a new aesthetic and failed (for now). By contrast, Skoda seems to have taken the ID4 and thought “no, we’re not doing an EV-specific design language” with predictably better results. Audi took that same ID4 and made it slightly more compact, stylistically rather restrained by their current standards (in this case probably an expression of insecurity) and lobbed 10000 euros onto the price without much justification. Equally predictably, my gullible compatriots are gobbling them up. That it’s probaly the most handsome of the current Audis says more about the rest (and the ID4).

  11. Surely I’m not the only one who detects a tiny little bit of long gone BMC’s ‘too many badges in too few market positions’ issue in modern day VAG, yes? It’s funny, history does rhyme a little doesn’t it?

    1. Or General Motors (a US-based car maker who used to sell in Europe and Australia) who had way too many brands in the 1980s and way too little styling to decorate them with. Perhaps we could add Stellantis to this list.

    2. Perhaps it’s a honeymoon period, but I find the differences between Stellantis and VAG quite striking: notionally, VAG has much more market spread (although they – downward aspirations from Skoda and Seat aside – are slightly more upmarket overall) than Stellantis. Common wisdom is that having too many mainstream brands (Peugeot, Fiat, Citroën, DS, Opel, Jeep) shouldn’t work, but early indications are that a sort of micro-niche management, coupled with a supermarket approach (not every single thing needs to make money, rather the entire supermarket trolley must) seems to work. For now at least. By contrast, VW keeps lumbering around with brand definitions. It also seems that the various design departments seem rather happy to work within the confines they are given (Opel Corsa, Chrysler Avenger – no, sorry: Jeep Avenger) and produce something that’s somewhere between joyful and convincing.

      In a sense, Stellantis seems to be doing (again, for the moment) what BMC was trying to do.

    3. Hi Tom. I’m rather taken with the Jeep Avenger and am looking forward to seeing one in the metal:

      It might be our next car, replacing the Mini.

    4. In ‘every brand is sold here’ NZ, Skoda has had one highly visible success. The Skoda Superb Estate is our new Police Car replacing Holden Commodores after GM’s spectacular own goal in dropping the brand.

    5. Love the supermarket trolley analogy (Tom V). Despite the seemingly excessive number of brands, I’m quite confident about Stellantis. Maybe it’s because I’m fond of Peugeot and Citroën and also because Fiat will always have a warm place in my unpretentious cars loving heart, but I want to believe that Stellantis will pull it off.

      The main difference between Stellantis and the 1970s-1980s badge-engineering General Motors is that current Stellantis cars from the various brands are still quite different to one another and with generally appealing designs, for the time being, at least. Picture GM in the late 70s and early 80s instead, having to uglify their cars so they can look different and in many cases failing to accomplish that and instead ending up with too many similar yet ugly cars across the GM brands that many customers had a hard time telling apart.

    6. Well, well, you’ll be buying an SUV then… 😉 Sounds like a potential article in the making?

      Thanks Cesar, everything I read and see of Stellantis seems to point in that direction: not every car needs to be a hit as long as the whole concern makes money. I suppose it’s also a way of reducing the tension on the design teams which are given a lot of standard components and hardpoints with probably not that much more freedom than at VAG or others. The Corsa sells well around here and I keep finding it an understated but pleasing design. It’s very clearly related to the 208 (which is pleasing enough in itself, if just a tad too cartoonish), but has enough of its own character to get away with it.

  12. Rather fond of the original post-Volkswagen Skoda Octavia (in spite of the PQ34 platform) and cars in general as well as the reputation they established as properly-priced subtly-styled Volkswagens with the inverted snobbery and lack of German badge all being part of the appeal.

    SEAT while it had potential at some point was never able to rise to the occasion as a Spanish Alfa Romeo, especially without having an affordable 2-seater sports car and wonder at times why Volkswagen ever bothered persisting with supporting SEAT (even at the expense of Skoda).

    Volkswagen reviving Wartburg/Trabant as a Dacia-esque marque like they considered at one time would have probably been a more worthwhile endeavour, even if it could be argued both SEAT and/or a hypothetical Wartburg/Trabant revival were entirely unnecessary whose niches could just as easily been occupied by Skoda.

    No SEAT would have meant the Arosa (a rebadged Lupo that despite the marque’s sporting pretensions went without a GTi version) gives way to the more differentiated Skoda Ahoj! concept entering production (not producing it was an oversight on Volkswagen’s part), thereby allowing Volkswagen to begin further shifting Skoda towards more utilitarian segments to compliment its existing post-VW reputation years before the Roomster and Yeti.

  13. The least said about Seat the better. The Mk1 Leon was a belter, but the Mk2 was a horror story, sharing its’ looks with other equally dubious Seat models. The style of the Exeo, albeit secondhand. came as welcome relief.

    1. Hi Mervyn. Yes, the Leon Mk1 was a good looking car, and definitely in the mould of a ‘Spanish Alfa Romeo’, then touted as VW’s desired market positioning for SEAT. It’s resemblance to the Alfasud was unlikely to have been accidental:

      Quite why the Mk2 (and all other contemporary SEAT models) was instead a monobox MPV is a matter for conjecture.

    2. VW’s acquisition of SEAT was similar to the one of Citroen by Peugeot.
      Both didn’t have real need for the acquisition but followed ‘suggestions by governments’.
      Without VW SEAT would have ceased to exist. But then VW didn’t have a proper idea what they should do with the new posession.
      The ‘Spanish Alfa’ surely was the best idea but sales numbers didn’t take off (and Fugen Ferdl wanted to buy the Italian Alfa anyway).
      Their lack of orientation is exemplary in the silly design feature of intersecting lateral creases. It took them three model generations to get rid of something that shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

  14. Good article Daniel! In my opinion Skoda has evolved into the quintessential Central-European brand. Whenever I see or imagine a large Skoda wagon, I always picture it ferrying a family of happy skiers to some Swiss Alpine resort. The current Fabia is a very desirable small car alternative to the ever-growing Golf segment with a sporty demeanour totally absent from the previous generations.

    The Mk1 Octavia looked a bit unsubstantial to me, with its narrow body, simple detailing and rather large rear overhang. The Mk2 changed all that and is one of my favourite Skodas, being solid, well-proportioned and only a little bit too large. I almost bought a second hand one 11 years ago but ultimately, its DSG transmission and especially the terrible cigarette stench inside put me off. The Octavia Mk3 is a continuation of the Mk2 with an even more upmarket feel, but now a bit too large for my tastes. The current Mk4 Octavia, alas, has grown even more, yet has become practically invisible, at least here in Barcelona, where you almost only see it as part of the extensive black hire car business fleet, battling it in and out of the airport with its bigger sibling, the Superb, and a host of other black, nondescript large saloons. The Mk4 Octavia has been a victim of the SUV/crossover fever as well; Skoda being hit with it particularly hard; its current range populated with a bunch of similar looking, similarly named models that I can’t really remember or tell apart, unless placed side by side.

    Ignoring SUVs for a moment, what Skoda really lacks and always did is a Golf alternative. Obviously the suits in Wolfsburg would never approve of such a close competitor to the Golf and that’s why it has never happened, but still, a “Skoda Golf” would be a very interesting thing indeed.

    1. Skoda’s competitor for the Golf is the Rapid/Scala. But it’s more aimed at the Opel/Vauxhaul Astra.

  15. I wonder if there is a clear plan for brand positioning within the VW Group, and what scale of autonomy each brand has. The VW ladder was, at least in theory, the most successful system of this type since the GM of the pre-war years – at least in my opinion. These days, however, I get the impression that this ladder has floundered somewhat. An example? The Octavia Mk.4 is trimmed/appointed better than the Golf Mk.8. The Octavia also still has, for example, a bonnet on hydraulic hinges rather than stick like the new Golf. Price-wise, the situation has also gone a bit crazy, to the point where it’s the Octavia that gives the impression of a semi-premium model, and the Golf the budget one. The new Octavia looks really premium in person. The Golf has gone in a slightly more youthful direction, which in turn, after all, should be the domain of Seat. Perhaps the corporation’s top-down control of brands is failing.

  16. I remember the silly and very german idea of different colours for the instrument-lamps. Seat-Orange, Skoda-Green, VW-Blue and Audi-Red.

    Skoda and Seat were purchases of Carl Hahn, his successor Ferdinand Piëch was not the man for such brands. Seat should be a spanish Alfa Romeo for Piëch, nonsens!

    The problem of giving every brand its own distinctive image is only a problem in Western Europe. In America and China, VW is the mass market brand and so is Skoda in Eastern Europe. But even in VW-dominated Western Europe, an Octavia Combi is more popular than
    a Golf Variant.

    I think it is much more important to offer distinctive products, KIA and Hyundai are good at it, Stellantis too..
    What is the difference between an Ateca and a Karoq? It is from the same meal. Grandland, 3008 and C5 Aircross are a lot more different.

  17. As most will know, I own a Skoda, a previous generation Octavia Estate. As a no-nonsense, very practical, roomy, largely comfortable, fuel efficient, easy-to-use thing it is great – I can ask no more. It has not been faultlessly reliable over the last 5 1/2 years – alternator failure, a cracked rear spring, and a failed DRL on one side (replaced under warranty), it is a bit of a cold fish to drive, lacks design flair outside (but is still traditionally quite handsome (even with the facelifted nose)) and I would like a less wooden gear-change and ride quality, but the latter are relatively minor things.

    The current generation car suffers from more ’emotional’ styling on the outside and the heinously bad VW Group touchscreen/ infotainment fiasco also foisted on the Golf which would prevent me from buying one. Otherwise, the interior is rather nicely trimmed, but it’s basically the same car underneath.

    I quite like the design direction suggested by the Vision 7, but let’s see how it emerges in production form.

  18. I’m baffled by the launch of a separate Cupra dealer network, there’s one publicising its existence in nearby Exeter. Why?

    1. Hi Adrian. I would assume it’s because VW failed to establish SEAT as the ‘sporty’ marque within its portfolio, mainly down to the inexplicable lack of consistency in the evolution of its model range.

  19. By coincidence I saw the latest Octavia today. It looks sleak, fast, nicely painted and with enough brightwork to cheer it up a good bit. Just one thing jars, the silly use of widely spaced letters at the back of the car instead of a badge. They have a badge at the front – it could be copied and pasted to the back. If the idea is that Skoda is somehow inferior to a VW, the message has not got through to the design managers and product planners. A Laurent & Klement edition Superb is a delightful item and much more cosy and comfy-looking than anything from VW or Audi. The L&K is, according to Skoda: “The inscription says it all: Laurin & Klement versions are designed specifically for those demanding maximum comfort with all the hallmarks of exclusivity.” And Skoda is sensible luxury.

    1. I was behind a grey one today too. They’re seriously nice cars. They certainly don’t look cheap.

    2. Other cars have those letters too, I don’t really understand them. In my mind they were only used on pick up trucks. Give me a “G”, give me an “M”, give me a “C”. Other than that, in many ways the current Octavia’s design discipline and execution strikes me as those of an Audi from a decade ago.

    3. Yes, there is a badge at the front – it could be copied and pasted to the back. But is too complex and unknown, especially in Asia. Skoda has at least defended it up front. What car that looks so sleak, fast, nicely painted just passed me. This message needs to get to a potential buyer. And Skoda’s design managers and product planners know it.

  20. Skoda is a right little social climber but in a good way. Aside from the Octavia’s use in the taxi trade, they have found their niche amongst Britain’s middle classes, a car for people with dogs and holidays in the rain. There is something SAAB-esque about them now and Skoda is by far the most popular car amongst our local Quaker Meeting, to the extent that I recall one Member joking if we still had sumptory rules they would specify wearing fleeces and driving Skodas!

    The 1st gen Octavia gave the impression of a distilled car, decontented by boiling off the distractions so that only fitness for purpose and intrinsic quality remained. Interesting that no one made the connection with the MB 190; the W201. Both well-wrought cars, both deceptively large looking and both a homage to undisguised plastic- with a fancy silver grille managing not to look out of place.

    Here is an exercise to try, bring up a photo of an Octavia, then open a new tab and search for the Lancia Kappa. See how they have the similar face, the same expression in their lamps, the same discipline in focusing the car by concentrating the detailing into the grille. The minimal extra brightwork on the Kappa becomes a pint of difference which alongside size identifies it as the superior car, the Octavia striking me as a smaller car in the same range, something easily slotting into the gap between Dedra and Kappa.

    1. All hail the Kappa. Like the Octavia it simultaneously displays just subliminal character in its main freatures but is clearly identifiable from a long distance and also among many other cars. One could say that as well as Mercedes´s 80s plain style, the Octavia also nodded to the unchromed goodness of the Volvo 850.

  21. I see many ID series cars in my area. They are without doubt the most boring looking cars that be has produced so far. I know the architect underneath is different from an ice etc but you’d have thought decades of designing cars would have produced something better. The interior is beyond down market. Skoda supposedly the basic brand appears superior. VW appear to have become utterly complacent which I suppose is what usually happens when a manufacturer enjoys decades of success. I believe their opportunity to turning things around is now quite limited. If ID is their idea of the buying publics ambition then welcome Stellantis, it’s your turn now.

  22. A few comments from the former north American colonies, by a dedicated petrolhead who has been interested in Tatra cars & trucks since I saw a photo of one in 1957.

    My interest in Tatra caused a slowly building interest in Skoda as well, because prior to the fall of the iron curtain, the few periodicals I could find with Tatra info often had Skoda info. Skodas in America were always a rare find, and as far as I know, none were sold new here, with the few I saw prior to 1989 wearing diplomatic license plates [I grew up in the Washington DC area]. My first sighting [and ride in] was a 1950s Felicia cabriolet about 1970.

    When I moved to the Heidelberg area, courtesy of the US Army in the mid 1970s, I started to see a few Skodas driving around, and in talking with other Germans who worked on cars, I got the impression they were simple and very reliable cars, and cheap to repair because the parts came from CZ.

    I began making trips to England in 1985, searching for cars and other transport related things to import to the USA. I was based in the Andover area for most of my visits, and I was a regular vendor and buyer at Beaulieu every September. The route to Beaulieu took me past a UK military helicopter base [and museum], and the parking lot hosted a weekend car boot sale, where I met a man who ran the local Skoda mains dealer and garage. On one visit he talked me into renting a Skoda from him for far cheaper than what it cost to rent a car at the airport.

    While the Skoda was not a new car by any measure, it was 100% trouble free, and I found it an easy car to drive, holding up to my tendency for hard driving. What delighted me was as a vendor at Beaulieu, many people were surprised to see an American driving a Skoda. I usually replied that I had to make due with the Skoda because I couldn’t find a Tatra to rent! [Except for one Beaulieu Autojumble when a good friend in Germany drove his Tatra T2-603 over to England, so we used the Tatra instead.]

    But my Skoda experiences ended about the same time when Volkswagen bought the company. However when it comes to my Skoda sdventures; Daniel, I have to agree with your initial statement;

    Škoda: budget, practical, strong value proposition, car as domestic appliance.

    1. Good morning Bill and thanks for sharing your recollections. Škoda, in its late pre-Volkswagen days, did indeed produce tough and reliable cars, albeit with a rear-engined, RWD mechanical layout that had fallen out of favour. The Czech engineers were thought to be talented and capable, but hamstrung by a lack of money and political interference. The 1976 Škoda 120 (known as the Estelle in the UK) was originally intended to be front-engined and FWD, but a lack of funds (and rumoured disapproval from Moscow) caused it to revert to the previous layout. Here’s a photo of a FWD prototype from the Škoda museum:

      When Škoda did build a FWD five-door hatchback, the 1987 Favorit, it was a pretty impressive achievement. It certainly needed some refinement, but the basics were good enough for VW to update it with engines from the Polo and a reskin to become the 1994 Felicia. Here’s the Favorit:

      Škoda has certainly proved a great purchase for Volkswagen, even if VW has not optimised its value to the wider group, in my opinion.

    2. Intriguingly, Ive just noticed that the FWD 120 prototype has three-stud wheels, whereas the RWD production car had conventional four-stud items. Does this suggest some Renault involvement with the FWD car?

    3. The 1976 Skoda 120 (Estelle) had a new body derived from Giugiaro’s front-engined, RWD Skoda 720 design (see prototype photo below). Technically, though, it was a further development of the Skoda 110. The front-engined, RWD Skoda 120 came out of the development of a joint Eastern European car with the East Germans. The front-wheel drive was derived from the Wartburg.

    4. The white car in the picture above has the standard Skoda drivetrain turned by 180 degrees, Audi-style.
      The blue thing in the picture is the air cleaner and the black one next to the windscreen is the radiator(!) which sits above the gearbox instead of behind the grille.

    5. Yes, it’s an Audi-style drivetrain. The Wartburg was the East German successor to the Auto Union (Audi).

      It’s a long way. All begins in political liberalization of the 1960s. Škoda hired Giorgetto Giugiaro to design new car. His project Škoda 720 didn’t realize afther the 1968 Russian invasion. So Škoda designed the 1976 Skoda 120 (Estelle) very similar rear-engined, RWD production car. It replaced the Škoda 100/110.

      Meanwhile, there was the cooperation with the East Germans on the Comecon Car / RGW Auto. The project failed for many reasons, but at the end are always money.
      At the beginning should every manufacturer had own body, the engines were in the front and were always 4-stroke by Škoda, axles should Škoda take from Wartburg/Trabant. Wartburg/Trabant should had the front wheel drive, Škoda rear wheel drive. Škoda than changed to front wheel drive too to cut cost. Cost reduction ended at the the every car had very similar body. But East Germany than stoped comunicate. They didn’t have money for new factory manufacturing.

      Interesting photos are in the posts to the article

      https://driventowrite.com/2022/03/21/poundshop-porsche-skoda-450-felicia-110r-garde-rapid/

    6. Ah, my mistake. That’s what I get for googling ‘FWD Škoda 120 prototype’ and not checking the image properly! I’m sure I once saw a photo of the FWD prototype online, but I cannot find it now.

    7. Those wheels might be Renault 6 items.

      O.T. google images for “Renault 6 wheel” to see a few fun surprises.

    8. Thanks Bill and Martin, very interesting. The Škoda 720 looks like one of those might-have-beens with looks to make many a western manufacturer blush:

    9. Yep Daniel, however I don’t want to stray too far off topic (this rabbit hole is rather deep) so here’s the Škoda 6L:

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