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Skoda's shining

July 9, 2009

For years, Skoda was a joke of a brand in Europe and North America. But in its second innings, the car company has shed its old image and acquired a new, swish one.

Anamika Butalia
Reputations are hard to break. Ask Skoda. Back in the mists of time, Skoda was known as Skoda Automobilova and was churning out some of the best cars from its home country in the former Czechoslovakia. But along the way, the company lost focus and became the butt of jokes throughout Europe and North American continent. Jokes like: “How do you make a Skoda look good? Park it between two Ladas!” Or: “Why do Skodas have heated rear windows? To keep your hands warm while pushing it!” (Google “Skoda jokes” and you’ll see what we mean.)

Then came a point in the early 1990s when Volkswagen took Skoda under its umbrella, and under its direction, Skoda began to shed its laughable reputation. And by 2000, when Skoda entered the Indian automobile market, it was one of the first entries in the “premium” car segment. Until then, Mercedes-Benz was the only car to flaunt the premium luxury tag. The transformation of Skoda was complete. “The company’s reputation was damaged, it’s true,” says Thomas Kuehl, a board member of Skoda Auto India, “but since Volkswagen took over, there has been no looking back. We’re introducing one successful car after another.”
Recent launches, the Superb and the Laura, have won several “Best Car” awards, even one from BBC’s Top Gear magazine, one of the publications to have trashed the brand in the past. “This is definitely the second coming of Skoda,” says Kuehl.

In India, Skoda has made inroads into the premium lifestyle segment. Both the Fabia and Superb were introduced within a year, and associated with Mumbai’s Lakme Fashion Week. “Fashion Week brought our target group, who used to drive the Hondas and Toyotas in the country, face-to-face with us and they now drive Skodas,” says Kuehl with pride.

And the sales bear him out. Over two million Lauras have already been sold in over 100 countries. Next up is Skoda’s premium SUV, the Yeti, in the beginning of 2010 which Kuehl plans to promote heavily in the Himalayan regions. “Yes, reputations are hard to break,” says Kuehl, smiling. “But not impossible!”

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