Lazarus would like tale of how Skodas grew ‘dependable’
THIS week a tale of two Skodas — and in this story there is an object
THIS week a tale of two Skodas — and in this story there is an object lesson in brand reinvention.
Actually you could take any one of the 2016 Skoda models available today to illustrate how this carmaker has become a major contender.
I have contented myself with testing two cars recently — the new Skoda Fabia and the flagship new Skoda Superb, both of which were estates.
What got me thinking about the impact the Czech company has had in recent years was the news at summer’s end that Skoda was named as the UK’s most dependable brand in a new JD Power study.
This was an impressive achievement. Some years ago now, the name Skoda was toxic among car owners. There are still those living in the past that have not driven a new Skoda and therefore have not enjoyed the experience.
The well-respected JD Power endorsement of the reliability of this marque must be good and satisfying news for Skoda’s designers and producers.
The inaugural 2015 UK Vehicle Dependability Study asked owners to report problems with their new cars — ranging from serious breakdowns to troublesome in-car entertainment issues.
Once analysed, the results gave Skoda a clear victory, with it comprehensively outscoring luxury brands.
Every Skoda performed better than the industry average, with the Fabia ranked as the third most dependable car in the small car category.
But Skoda has not been alone in its endeavour of course, and owes much to the mighty Volkswagen Group, which took 100 per cent ownership of the company back in 2000.
There is a pattern here. I recall that the boss of a major German carmaker once said that the key to brand image was clarity. First off, the name was important: he cited the many names tried by one particular British carmaker, now defunct.
Convoluted brand names only put confusion in customers’ minds, he said. But with cars there also have to be recognisable brand “signatures” running through manufacture.
So in new Skodas you get a strong family resemblance in both the Fabia and the Superb. And after a while this familiarity represents reassurance and, I would argue in the case of those satisfied JD Power customers, also the all-important reliability.
Take on one level the executive class of car — the Skoda Superb SE L Executive Estate, which I have been driving this week.
Here in a car costing £26,320 without options fitted, you get a smart, quick, economical, very comfortable vehicle that has no trouble staying on the greasy pole of desirability when competing with much more expensive models.
When you climb the executive ladder presumably you expect a car to match your achievements. This all-new Skoda Superb is so complete a car in looks and ability that it can easily go with you to the top. And you could save your company more than a few pennies along the way.
No doubt this Skoda Superb is aimed fully at the fleet and executive market — even the colour of the test car was unequivocally decked out with Business Grey metallic paint (an extra £535).
Yet as a private motorist I would be happy to own a Superb. The estate version was a comfortable motorway charger (the 2.0 TDI engine versatile, and with deep torque — pulling power) and acres of space for personal luggage and shopping use.
A little while ago, I drove the equally impressive Skoda Fabia Estate SE. This is the third generation Fabia, Skoda’s most successful city car.
The estate gives the owner additional load space and comes with lots of handy things: pockets, bottle holders, waste basket, multi-media holder and that great little clip that is somewhere safe for a ticket that shows you have paid for parking. Simply clever, as Skoda puts it. The Fabia was not only What Car? magazine’s best small car of this year — it was also its Car of the Year 2015.
Do all these awards and achievements matter?
Well, yes, I think they do. Some might say that specialist magazines do not actually buy cars and run them for years with all that entails. I fully understand that point of view, having cars for a short test period only.
That’s why the JD Power award is such a feather in Skoda’s cap, which the Czech company must be wearing at a jaunty angle these days.