Skoda’s new flagship car, the Superb, will take on the likes of Ford’s Mondeo and Vauxhall’s forthcoming Insignia.
The move from perception as a value brand to mainstream is the major challenge facing Skoda UK’s new boss, director Robert Hazelwood, who took over at the helm just two months ago.
He feels the Czech marque has come a long way since it was the butt of many jokes, but is under no illusions that the old perceptions still lurk.
“Today there is a real segmentation in the perception of the brand,” he told Fleet News.
“There’s a generational view –youngsters have no hang-ups and really solid views about the brand.
"My generation and 30-somethings still have this old perception of the brand.
“But there are those that are informed and interested in cars, know that the product is good, affordable, good quality and built by the Volkswagen Group.
“Our problem is that not enough people are aware of this. We need to get the brand perceived as a more mainstream brand.
“More people need to be made aware of just how great the product is.”
Mr Hazelwood feels the perception in fleet is even less informed than retail buyers.
“Today, you can walk into a pub, put your car keys on the table and people will say ‘Ah, you’ve bought a Skoda’,” he said.
“Our retail customers would say that’s a clever acquisition.
“What we have to appeal to in the fleet world is the user-chooser who actually isn’t necessarily interested in the rational, wholelife cost debate.
“He wants a car that reflects his personal surroundings. That’s the challenge for Superb.
“Contract hire and leasing companies, and fleet managers, choose cars on a rational business basis, but user-choosers don’t – they choose emotionally.
“The challenge for us as a brand is to continue to deliver on all the rational but, with a car like this, start appealing to people that want something that makes a statement about themselves.”
Mr Hazelwood hopes that the Superb, with its conservative styling and emphasis on comfort, will appeal to buyers with no pretensions.
“They are not going to be the guy who wants to be seen in an Alfa Romeo,” he explained.
Skoda hopes to sell about 4,000 new Superbs a year – twice as many as the outgoing model – and expects up to 60% of sales to be in fleet.