Back in 2001, a commercial appeared on UK televisions showing the mass assembling of cars in a high-tech production factory. The end product is shown as an attractive vehicle that undoubtedly looks the business. It’s for the new Skoda Fabia. Nothing out of the ordinary there, right? Well, not quite.
The commercial ends with the now-legendary “It’s a Skoda. Honest.” The modest sign-off is not the self-congratulatory advertising you would expect from a car manufacturer that’s just spent millions on a new campaign. Yet it was at this point Skoda removed itself from its reputation of old, and cemented its place as one of the main players of the new millennium.
In 2016, it’s hard to even look at a Skoda and see those outdated cars that were so common, yet so maligned, across Europe in the 1970s and 1980s. Yet the fact is that Skoda were making 1960s-style models with rear engines into the 1990s, and that’s just not what people wanted. Not in the 90s, not now.
It should come as no surprise, then, that growing up in Scotland, I remember Skoda’s campaign striking a chord with a lot of people. Skoda are making cars again, but they look like Volkswagens. What’s that all about? How can those little cars, the laughing stock of the automotive world, have their badge on a proper car? It just didn’t fit. But the answer was simple.
Following the fall of Communism in Skoda’s native Czechoslovakia, the Volkswagen Group began to buy more and more of Skoda, exploiting the country’s infrastructure and low wages, with the aim of rebranding and redesigning everything about the company.
The clever play on the image of old told the world that Skoda was a company with a sense of humour, and that by meeting their damaged reputation head-on, showed that they are brave enough to put their money where their mouth is, and right their wrongs. VW quite simply utilised their massive resources to completely transform a fading brand that looked out for the count.
Since the takeover by VW, brand Skoda has gone from strength to strength. “Made in Czech Republic” is not a stamp worthy of ridicule anymore, but rather an emblem of quality. Through advertising and word of mouth, Skoda managed to reached a new customer base.
Of course it’s one thing grabbing attention, and another keeping hold of it. Skoda have kept their customers coming back not through commercials, but by providing useful machines that represent quality. Their fight to keep up with their bigger, German brother is something the Czechs take seriously. So much so that Skodas don’t actually look much like VWs anymore – they very much have their own image.
The result of this is they have developed a huge customer base that doesn’t even consider their old status anymore. Skoda sit high at the top of user reviews, and in 2014 sold over a million models worldwide – a new first for the company. They have gone from the laughing stock of Europe to having a respected, worldwide reputation. Skoda, originally considered by VW to be their entry brand, now competes with their mother company in every aspect. On features, on price, on style, on space.
Considered by many as the smart and practical choice, their evolution has turned their reputation completely on its head. The true Lazarus of the automotive industry, Skoda have become the inspiration for flailing brands across the globe. It’s the truth. Honest.
Feature image: onlymotors.com