I’ve been a longtime fan of Skoda, especially so since my former employer VWAG began a series of investments in the Czech company in 1994, culminating in acquiring 70% of the company in December 1995.
Prior to VW’s investments Skoda had often been the butt of jokes, that they were the ‘worst cars made in Europe’. The fact was they weren’t – but the company did lack access to the latest production systems, components and technology.
All that changed in 2010 as VWAG integrated Skoda completely into the family, and using shared platforms, powertrains and architecture the German giant started down the long road to restoring faith in the Skoda brand.
In 2017, production topped out at 1,210,000 vehicles and Skoda now has a wide range from the baby Fabia, all the way via Octavia, and the superb Superb models, to a large SUV named Kodiak.
Whilst all these cars share lots of bits and bobs with VW-Audi models, it’s the latest model, the compact SUV called Karoq, that instills solid confidence in the company tagline – ‘Simply Clever’.
You’ll know I’m no fan of SUVs as my personal transport, but I am smart enough to see when something good comes along, and the Karoq is one very impressive car.
The name is not an invention by a ‘naming agency’. After Skoda used the Kodiak name, it returned to the etymology of northern America, discovering that one native tribe’s name for 'arrow' (part of the Skoda logo) is ‘RUQ’, and another had the word, ‘KARAAQ’ to describe a car, so a blend of the two native words gave birth to KAROQ.
The naming is as clever as the vehicle itself. The Karoq is thoroughly practical, as you might expect, from the company which created the flexible and unique ‘Roomster’ in 2006.
This very compact 4.2m long wagon-cum-car, had one of the most innovative set of interior configurations most of us had ever seen before.
It was possible to configure the Roomster’s rear seats in any of four different combinations, including removing them completely. Even folding the rear seats completely forward created 1555L of space, and with them completely removed, more than 1750L was available.
The Karoq employs the same configurations, making it possibly the most practical compact SUV on the market. It's even possible to recline the rear seatbacks.
In addition there’s all sorts of large and small storage spaces spread around the interior, and given its excellent fuel economy, that makes it an exceptionally sensible family car.
Okay, I know what you’re thinking – if it’s ‘sensible’ it can’t be fun. Well you’re wrong. The Skoda Karoq is a truly enjoyable car. Despite a relatively high centre of gravity, it corners flat, has plenty of urge from its 1.5L turbo, and with a 7-speed DSG, it’s a pleasure to drive.
Design-wise, I think it’s both eye-catching and contemporary. The latest ‘fad’ within VWAG design studios is this ‘stretched paper’ look along the flanks and beltline, and on the Karoq the design team has created a very smart, sharp-looking SUV.
As usual, there’s only one impediment to mind-blowing sales success for Karoq – and, it’s pricing. Yes, the base car is listed around AUD$29,000. Sorry, but the car you will want to own will cost you close to $40K.
It’s at this point all the emphasis on Skoda’s ‘cleverness’ fades into insignificance, and the appeal of both the more affordable Hyundai and Kia competitors rear their handsome heads.
Sometimes I wonder if there is any element of reality in the minds of the European car companies selling Down Under, as their brands face the volatile competition created by 62 different marques fighting for oxygen in the overcrowded marketplace.
Some (if not most) of these smart-arsed suits truly believe that buyers will see past elevated pricing, and choose the premium European models – just because they deserve to be held in higher esteem.
When the potential Karoq buyers arrive in the Skoda showroom, and complete the inevitable tyre-kicking exercise, then they get a reality check.
Mind you, the retail prices for Australia are set in Wolfsburg, Germany, by pimply-faced graduates who have crunched the numbers, and tell their Antipodean managements what the retail price should be. Never mind feedback from the market. This what we need to sell it for, to make a profit.
Keep in mind, they have never visited Australia in person, and also fail to comprehend the highly competitive nature of the market.
It’s the same for ALL the Europeans – basically, they haven’t got a clue how to sell cars in far-off lands. They just apply the conditions found in Europe, and work from there. Imagine the potential for all these great cars, if their prices were based on real-time, on-the-ground competitive analysis, and not results spat out of a computer based in Europe.
Sad, but true. I invite all, or any, of the CEOs of the major European brands to ask me what they could do to increase sales in Australia.
I’d give them the same advice real estate agents give to their sellers – get real, you have to ‘meet the market’.
You don’t sell, if you’re not truly competitive, and priced to steal sales from your competitors, whomever they are.