Although one of the oldest car manufacturers in the world today, Skoda as we all know, did not have the best of reputations, poor reliability and build quality restricted the sales and the marque became something of a joke. Then came Volkswagen and everything changed.
The history of Skoda cars can be traced back to two gentlemen, mechanical engineer Vaclav Laurin and bookseller Vaclav Klement. Laurin & Klement set up a bicycle repair business in 1895 after Klement had tried to get his own bicycle repaired with very little success. Laurin already had experience in the manufacture of bicycles and it was not long before the two partners produced their first powered motorcyclette, a bicycle that was powered by an engine mounted on the handlebars. This design proved quite dangerous and it was not until 1899 that the partners launched the Slavia motorcycle, this model proved a success and by 1900 the company employed 32 workers. Five years later and Laurin & Klement had diversified into the automobile market, they launched the Voiturette A and it became a symbol of Czech car design, being one of the most expensive and most luxurious to match, it also proved to be a commercial success.
The First World War halted the production of cars at the factory and all labourers were targeted at producing munitions and armaments for the war effort. Following the end of the war production once again began and the partners added trucks to their ever-growing range of vehicles. However in 1924, following production problems and a fire at the plant, Laurin & Klement sought a commercial partner, as a result they merged with the largest Czechoslovakian industrial manufacturer, Skoda Works. Production of cars now came under the Skoda name and once again the marque began to have successes including the Skoda Popular in the late 1930's. World War II saw the Skoda car plant once again being used for the war effort, this time under the control of the occupying German Army. The end of the Second World War saw Skoda once again return to car manufacturing as part of the planned economy and for the next fifteen years Skoda would gain a reputation of building tough, reliable cars. This reputation would unfortunately suffer as Skoda lost touch with its technical developers in non communist countries.and as a result by the 1980's Skoda was still manufacturing vehicles that were conceived in the 60's. Their reputation suffered and the Skoda brand became the butt of many jokes.
Skoda's fortunes began to change with the launch of the Favorit in 1987, designed by the Italian firm Bertone, the Favorit was still lacking technologically but it had certainly closed the gap to its western counterparts. Solidly built and reliable, the Favorit was regarded as being good value for money and continued in production up until the introduction of the Felicia in 1996.
Skoda's biggest change in fortune came after the Velvet Revolution in 1989, peaceful demonstrations saw the overthrow of the Communist party led government and as a result many government owned industries were privatised, in the case of Skoda two car companies made bids, Volkswagen and Renault. On the strength of their bid Volkswagen would win out and in April 1991 Skoda became the fourth marque to join the Volkswagen Group.
Now backed by VW knowhow, Skoda quickly moved forward. New models, the Fabia and Octavia were introduced. Based on VW platforms, these new Skoda's showed levels of quality never before seen on a Skoda and the marketing companies took full advantage of this fact. Taking a line that could easily have backfired if the cars they built were not of the highest quality, the marketing buffs turned the old Skoda jokes on their heads and took the mickey out of their old reputation. It worked, Skoda turned one of the worst reputations in the motoring world to its advantage and hasn't looked back since and in 2005 something happened that had never before occurred in the UK, a waiting list developed for some Skoda models.
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