Volkswagen Group appears determined to bury Skoda's old image as a backwater of automotive design.
VW is using its Czech subsidiary to showcase the Fabia supermini, the first car to be built off Volkswagen's new PQ24 platform.
Volkswagen eventually will use that platform for the next-generation Polo, a key model in VW's small-car lineup.
The Fabia's introduction is part of VW's campaign to reposition Skoda as an up-to-date marque that can compete with Europe's leading mass-market automakers.
For the Fabia, Skoda adopted the same design organization that it used for the Octavia, a sedan aimed at the upper mass market. However, the Fabia project was tougher because the PQ24 platform is all-new.
'NEW TO THE LAST SCREW'
'We had to fight for the right attention (for the Fabia),' said Wilfried Bockelmann, the Skoda board member responsible for technical development. 'But as a launch customer you can also influence a lot of things. The Fabia is new to the last screw.'
The Fabia range features new engines, gearboxes, axles, body and interior.
Positioning the Fabia relative to the similar-sized Skoda Felicia was difficult, said Bockelmann. Trunk space in the Fabia is a little smaller than in the Felicia, but rear legroom is greater.
Skoda wanted to maximize the Fabia's rear-seat space, since the vehicle is aimed at single-car households. The car's bold, compact styling was not intended to be trendy, but 'more classical' like the Octavia, Bockelmann said.
Skoda established new stamping facilities and body-in-white operations for the car at Mlada Boleslav, in the Czech Republic. Production began Aug. 16. The plant should reach full production in February or March.
Capacity for the new model will be 1,200 cars a day. A full range of variants is not expected to be available for three years. Skoda took on more engineering responsibility for the new car.
In the past, Skoda has relied heavily on outside engineering companies. For example, the company outsourced about one-third of the Octavia's engineering. About 60 percent of the Fabia's components has been outsourced to suppliers, according to Bockelmann. That is about the same as the Octavia.
'If the car has a Skoda engine and Skoda gearbox, the outsourcing level will be considerably less than 60 percent,' he said. 'But we will have to buy the engine and gearbox for a turbodiesel version, in which case the percentage will be higher.'
Skoda gave out more responsibility for the design, sourcing and assembly logistics of some modules, said Ludomir Antos, the head of product management for the Fabia.