When Vaclav Klement was left stranded in 1894 he sent his bike back, only to be told by the maker he had to write a repairs request in an ‘understandable language’. So he fixed it himself, with the help of Vaclav Laurin – and the pair went on to manufacture bicycles, motorcycles and finally cars, planting the seeds that would eventually grow into Skoda.
The founders’ names have appeared on some versions of Skodas in a nod to a history of varying fortunes that recently has been on the upswing.
In the UK, sales are hitting record levels and businesses are turning to Skoda as a potential supplier in growing numbers.
According to Martin Burke, the firm’s head of business sales, it is heading for 20,000 fleet sales within the next five years as it aims for an overall market share of 2%, which will see total sales reach 50,000. Since 1998, fleet sales have grown from 1,273 to more than 10,000 in 2004.
He said: ‘We have a strong product range and we have the infrastructure we need. Skoda is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year and during that time it has been clear that how you treat customers is the roof and pillars of any successful company.
‘This growth is not going to be overnight and we will be prudent, but the issue is people seeing the car and driving it. Also, by delivering great levels of customer service and satisfaction you also grow the business that way.’
Its core fleet model, the Octavia, has been seeing strong sales, while it is also making ‘strong progress’ on the Superb.
Along with a new Fabia, scheduled for 2006, there are also advanced plans to introduce a compact family model based on the Roomster concept shown at the Frankfurt Motor Show last year. The finished car will make its debut at the Geneva Motor Show in March, 2006.
To cope with the expected increase in demand for its products, Skoda intends to double the number of field staff in its business sales team to six, part of a 22-strong team working with Burke.
He added: ‘Our aim is to become a serious contender in the fleet sales market. Today’s fleet managers need more than just a reliable car on their lists – they’re looking at the whole package, from low running costs to excellent support too.’
Fleet staff numbers at head office have also doubled in the last year – one of whom works exclusively with national contract hire and leasing companies. Business sales centres around the country will rise from 30 to 40, going some way to opening the brand up to the uninitiated.
Burke added: ‘We need people to sit in and evaluate the cars, because once they do they are convinced. We need to show it is a sound purchase, both in terms of the models and in wholelife costs and residual values.’
Skoda UK delivered 3,057 new cars to customers in May, for a year-to-date total of 14,875. That represents an increase of 7.6% over sales for the same period in 2004. Market share topped 1.6%, the highest in Skoda’s history, in a market down 3.4% overall.
By model, the supermini Fabia accounted for 7,707 units to the start of June, marking 100,000 sales in the UK since its launch in 2000. The new Octavia had 4,208 year-to-date, with Superb selling 1,315 so far in 2005.
Skoda business sales account for 1,269 of the year-to-date figures, while Skoda fleet sales have doubled compared with the same period last year.
Skoda UK brand director Chris Craft, added: ‘We are very pleased at the way the brand is growing in the UK. In fact, we’ve grown so much that we’ve had to expand our offices to keep up.’
Martin Burke – business life and times