Skoda, the Czech brand that started as the Volkswagen Group's budget offering but which has risen to become a star performer, is rumoured to be under consideration for South Africa.
The Volkswagen Group’s Skoda division has been a big success story for the company in many parts of the world. Using the VW Group’s proven mechanicals, but with styling and a brand identity all of its own, the Czech brand is admired both by practicality-minded folk, as well as quirky ones. Think of it, then, as the VW Group’s answer to Subaru, but in a far more mainstream-acceptable form. Consequently, big sales have followed.
In recent years the brand has not only become very profitable, but also widely admired. According to a study by JP Powers in the UK last year, it ranked as the most dependable brand, as judged by owners. In recent years the brand’s expansion into markets where it has not been before has also been mooted, including North America.
Mzansi on the cards?
The Skoda Yeti is a compact crossover that would make a strong rival to the likes of the Kia Soul and Suzuki Vitara.
Until very recently the brand’s progress has been of only casual interest to South Africa’s motoring media. Then we received notice that the topic of South African market availability came up in a RHD (right-hand drive) market meeting in Europe. According to our source, the mood in the room suggested that South African availability was indeed on the cards.
Then, a mere few weeks later, we noticed an article in the Australian media (also a RHD market). In that report, the Australian director of Skoda, Michael Irmer, responded to a question about the possibility of a Skoda version of the VW Amarok. “There are only really three markets in the world that are big in this market, in these sizes utes, which is South America where Skoda is not, there’s South Africa, where Skoda is currently not, and there’s Australia,” he said.
The keyword here being “currently”...
Connecting the dots (perhaps prematurely) we requested comment from Volkswagen South Africa and received the following;
“Your source is not entirely incorrect and we have been looking at some feasibility studies. However, no decision has been made,” said a VWSA spokesperson.
The spokesperson also explained that such feasibility studies were regular occurences.
So, is there smoke?
Revealed at last year's Paris Motor Show, the Skoda Kodiaq is based on the same MQB platform as the VW Tiguan.
While we would embrace even greater diversity in the South African market, there are a number of hurdles in the way to Skoda’s African expansion. Previous experience with the VW Group’s Spanish SEAT brand showed that price positioning in South Africa is absolutely crucial. Furthermore, the South African market is currently not exactly buoyant - it is contracting, if anything. Indeed, we expect brands to pack up, rather than pitch up. Finally, a massive marketing campaign would be needed, as the Skoda brand has very little local traction and heritage.
So, while we would love to see the likes of the award-winning Kodiaq SUV, the Octavia and Yeti in South Africa, we highly doubt the market, in its current shape, is ready for the Czech assault. Then again, car companies don’t make these decisions for the present, but the future...