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Skoda plans independent brand image

By Li Fusheng in Geneva | China Daily | Updated: 2015-03-09 07:55

Growing popularity of brand spurs marque to seek own road in world's largest auto market

Skoda Auto expects to establish a more independent brand image in China as the Czech marque gains in popularity in the world's largest auto market.

Skoda became part of Germany's Volkswagen Group in 1991 and has been partnering with Shanghai Volkswagen to produce and sell cars in China since 2006.

"The partnership has been an advantage for Skoda, especially in the early days, because that means we have good quality and staff," said the brand's president and CEO Winfried Vahland.

Thanks to that, the brand's sales have been growing steadily. Last year it sold more than 280,000 vehicles in China, a 24 percent increase from 2013, and more than three times the average growth rate of the Chinese auto market that year.

To show its commitment to China, Skoda is planning to scale up its investment in the coutry. "The amount will be at least 10 billion yuan from 2015 to 2018," said Vahland.

As the acceptance of the brand and models grows steadily, Vahland said he and the heads of Shanghai Volkswagen agree it is time for Skoda to seek a road of its own in China, its single largest market worldwide.

Vahland said extensive market analyses show that the brand's target customers are young, open-minded, and progressive - people who respect tradition and also try new things.

That is also what Skoda stands for. Though not among the first auto brands to have entered the Chinese market, Skoda is one of the longest-established vehicle manufacturers in the world, with its Czech headquarters in Mlad Boleslav starting production in 1895.

"In China, we will talk about our tradition but we will not be obsessed with it. We talk about not only the past but also the future," Vahland told China Daily.

Perhaps one of the latest examples is the new Superb that had its world premiere in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, in early March and will be exhibited at the forthcoming Shanghai auto show.

"The new Superb is the beginning of a new era for Skoda," Vahland said. Calling the model a "game changer" for the brand, he said, "People tend to associate Skoda with rationality, but the new car shows we are uncompromisingly emotional."

The model's design was also a highlight at the Volkswagen Group Night on the eve of the 2015 Geneva auto show as it demonstrates Skoda's emotional strength.

The use of Volkswagen Group's modular transverse matrix, or the MQB, complements its dynamic appearance. It also has more extensive safety systems, better connectivity and lower emissions than before.

"Its outstanding design and technical qualities and unbeatable interior space make our flagship the new benchmark in our competitive environment," Vahland said.

Since 2001, the Superb has been at the top of the Skoda model range. Since then, the car manufacturer has delivered more than 700,000 first- and second-generation Superbs to customers, making the car one of the most popular vehicles in its class.

"We intend to offer the best vehicles in our business sectors, to show the quality, tradition and future orientation of our brand and to increase Skoda's appeal. We are proud of our vehicles and we wish to convey this feeling to our customers," Vahland said.

"With the new model, we will win over new customer groups for the brand. It marks our growth ambition and points to the brand's future," he said. Skoda has long set a goal of scaling up its annual global sales to 1.5 million cars by 2018, with a third in the Chinese market.

In addition to the new Superb, Skoda will showcase a new Fabia at the Shanghai auto show in April and both will hit the Chinese market later in the year.

It is also planning to introduce an SUV larger than its Yeti into China to meet Chinese customers' growing demand for SUVs. The model is expected to make its world debut in late 2016.

Statistics show that SUV sales surged 36.4 percent year-on-year to hit 4.1 million units in 2014 while the segment of passenger cars as a whole moved 9.9 percent in the year.

Consulting firm IHS said global SUV sales rose 88.5 percent from 2008 through 2013. It predicts that by 2016, one in every five vehicles sold in the world will be an SUV.

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