Škoda is an automobile manufacturer based in the Czech Republic. Škoda became a wholly owned subsidiary of the Volkswagen Group in 2000, positioned as the entry brand to the group. Its total global sales reached 684,226 cars in 2009 and 85,000 for the month of March 2011.
The origins of what became Škoda Auto go back to the early 1890s where, like many long-established car manufacturers, a company started out manufacturing bicycles. It was 1894, and 26-year old Václav Klement, who was a bookseller in Mladá Boleslav, in today's Czech Republic, which was then part of Austria-Hungary, was unable to obtain spare parts to repair his German bicycle. Klement returned his bicycle to the manufacturers, Seidel and Naumann, with a letter, in Czech, asking them to carry out repairs, only to receive a reply, in German, stating: "If you would like an answer to your inquiry, you should try writing in a language we can understand".A disgusted Klement, despite not having technical experience, decided to start a bicycle repair shop, which he and Václav Laurin opened in 1895 in Mladá Boleslav. Before going into business partnership with Klement, Laurin was established as a bicycle manufacturer in the nearby town of Turnov. In 1898, after moving to their newly-built factory, the pair bought a Werner "motorcyclist",[nb 1] which was produced by French manufacturer Werner Brothers. Laurin & Klement's first motorcyclette, powered by an engine mounted on the handlebars driving the front wheels, proved dangerous and unreliable—an early incident on it cost Laurin a front tooth. To design a safer machine with its structure around the engine, the pair wrote to German ignition specialist Robert Bosch for advice on a different electromagnetic system. The pair's new Slavia motorcycle made its debut in 1899.
In 1900, when the company had a workforce of 32, Slavia exports began, with 150 machines shipped to London for the Hewtson firm. Shortly afterwards, the press credited them as makers of the first motorcycle. The first model, Voiturette A, was a success and the company was established both within Austria-Hungary and internationally. By 1905 the firm was manufacturing automobiles.
In 1987 the Favorit model was introduced, and was one of a triumvirate of compact Western-influenced front wheel drive hatchbacks from the three main Eastern Bloc manufacturers around that time - the others being VAZ's Lada Samara and Zastava's Yugo Sana. The Favorit's appearance was designed by Italian design company Bertone. With some motor technology licensed from western Europe, but still using the Škoda-designed 1289 cc engine, Škoda engineers designed a car comparable to western production. The technological gap was still there, but began closing rapidly. The Favorits were very popular in Czechoslovakia and other Eastern Bloc countries. They also sold fairly well in Western Europe, especially in the UK and Denmark, being regarded as solid and reliable, as well as being good value. Their trim levels continued to improve and they were sold until the introduction of the Felicia in 1994.
Backed by Volkswagen Group expertise and investments, the design—both style and engineering—has improved greatly. The 1994 model Felicia was effectively a reskin of the Favorit, but quality improvements helped, and in the Czech Republic the car was good value for money and became popular. Volkswagen AG chairman Ferdinand Piëch personally choose Dirk van Braeckel as head of design, and the subsequent Octavia and Fabia models made their way to the demanding European Union markets. They are built on common Volkswagen Group floorpans. The latest Octavia is based on Golf Mk5 floorpan, and Fabia is based on the A0 floorpan, although the Fabia was released a year before Volkswagen released the new Polo based on the floorpan.
The perception of Škoda in Western Europe has changed completely since the takeover by VW, in stark comparison to the reputation of the cars throughout the 1980s—often described as 'the laughing stock' of the automotive world. As technical development progressed and attractive new models were brought to market, Škoda's image was initially slow to improve. In the UK, a major turnabout was achieved with the ironic "It is a Škoda, honest" campaign, which was started in the early 2000s. In a 2003 advertisement on British television, a new employee on the production line is fitting Škoda badges on the car bonnets. When some attractive looking cars come along he stands back, not fitting the badge, since they look so good they cannot be Škodas. This market campaign worked by confronting Škoda's image problem head-on—a tactic which marketing professionals regard as high risk. Before the advertising campaign, it was common to hear tour guides in Bratislava making jokes about the Škoda, saying "How do you double the value of a Škoda? Fill up the gas tank!" If the Fabia and Octavia had been anything less than excellent cars the campaign might have backfired badly. By 2005 Škoda was selling over 30,000 cars a year in the UK, a market share of over 1%. For the first time in its UK history, a waiting list developed for deliveries by Škoda. Škoda owners in the UK have consistently ranked the brand at or near the top of the J.D. Power customer satisfaction survey during the 2000s.
As of 2010 Škoda has several manufacturing and assembly plants, including one in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Škoda also has an assembly plant in the city of Aurangabad, in the western Indian state of Maharashtra which was established in 2001 as Škoda India Private Ltd.
In 2006 Škoda presented its brand new model Roomster, which is a small MPV with a unique design, which reflects future trends. At the end of December 2006 Škoda released the first official pictures of the new Fabia, a model that would replace the Fabia in 2007.
Škoda started production in China in 2006. Its 2009 China sales—of three models Octavia, Superb, and Fabia—more than doubled from 2008, reaching 123,000 vehicles. Shanghai Volkswagen plans to build Yeti SUV in 2011. In the second half of 2010, China became Škoda's largest market.
Following a long history of class victories in lower levels of motorsport, Škoda became a participant in the FIA World Rally Championship in the 1999 season, with World Rally Car models of the Škoda Octavia. Škoda's best result with the Octavia WRC was Armin Schwarz's third place at the 2001 Safari Rally. From mid 2003, the Octavia was replaced by the smaller Škoda Fabia. Škoda used the 2004 season to develop the car further, but did not achieve much success the following season. However, at the season-ending Rally Australia, 1995 world champion Colin McRae was running second before retiring. Škoda then withdrew from the series, and the 2006 season saw Škoda represented by the semi-privateer Red Bull Škoda Team. Jan Kopecký drove the Fabia WRC to fifth place at the Rally Catalunya, and as late as the 2007 Rallye Deutschland the Fabia still achieved a fifth place result, again in the hands of Kopecký. Former works Ford and Citroen driver Francois Duval also drove a Fabia WRC in 2006 for the privateer First Motorsport team, achieving a sixth place on Rally Catalunya.
A new and redesigned logo was revealed for Skoda in March 2011.