FARO, Portugal - Skoda's first international press launch away from its native Czech Republic shows the importance the Volkswagen subsidiary attaches to the all-new Fabia.
The Fabia takes Skoda into uncharted waters - the quality end of Europe's fast-growing supermini category.
Competitors include the Fiat Punto, Renault Clio, Opel Corsa and Peugeot 206. Almost 4 million superminis are sold each year in a total European market of some 15 million units.
The Fabia is the first car built off Volkswagen Group's all-new A0 platform, which also will spawn the new VW Polo in 2001 and new Seat Ibiza after that.
Jan Novak, Fabia project manager, said Volkswagen was responsible for developing the platform, but Skoda developed the 'hat.'
'Standard platforms do not create standard cars - what you see, feel and smell here is Skoda all the way,' he said.
The Fabia, which goes on sale this month in the Czech Republic, Austria and southern Germany at a base price of about $9,920, marks the next and arguably most important step on Skoda's long road back to credibility.
Detlef Wittig, Skoda vice chairman, predicts it will become the best-selling Skoda model with sales of some 145,000 units next year, while the Felicia, Skoda's current best seller, will sell about 115,000 units.
Fabia is being built on a new, $355 million production line installed at the Mlada Boleslav factory just outside Prague. Heinz-Werner Krebs general manager of production planning, said nearly all of the tooling has been designed and made by Skoda Cars. Press shop capacity is 1,200 Fabia bodies a day in three shifts, with 600 workers a shift.
The paint shop, opened in 1996, is shared with the Felicia and Octavia. The facility will be enlarged in 2000 by the addition of another topcoat line, giving a daily capacity of 1,800 bodies.
Fabia, which at first will be available only as a five-door hatchback, is bigger than most cars in the segment, yielding exceptional interior space.
But the chassis is the big bonus. Over some fairly appalling roads near here, it gave a genuinely comfortable ride, just on the firm, sporty side of being soft.
The Fabia comes to market with a choice of three inline-four gasoline engines - a 1.0-liter rated at 50 hp, a 1.4-liter rated at 64 hp, and a 100-hp, 1.4-liter with 16 valves - and two diesels, a 1.9-liter, 64-hp direct injection and the same engine turbo-boosted to 100 hp.