For decades, Skoda was a bad joke. Its Communist-era cars were a by-word for tragic reliability and dreadful build quality. It was sad state of affairs for a company that once made some of Europe’s finest cars.
But as the USSR died, Skoda found enough money to develop the Favorit, a front-engined, front-wheel-drive supermini. It was a massive improvement. So much so that Volkswagen decided it wanted to buy the company.
The Favorit was a good car, but it was still regarded in the UK as budget option, something you bought if you couldn’t stretch to a Fiesta or Corsa.
Attitudes gradually started to shift with the introduction of the Polo-based Felicia in 1995, but it wasn’t until the Octavia arrived in ’98, followed by the Fabia in 2000 that Skoda hit the mainstream.
Honda had always been highly regarded. It entered the UK market in the early Seventies and, even though its cars were a bit expensive, they were easy to drive, well equipped and rarely broke down.
Owners loved them, though sales were hamstrung by import tariffs imposed on Japanese cars. To get around the problem, Honda set up a factory in Swindon. With a ready supply of cars, sales took off.
Through the Nineties and into the 2000’s, the Swindon-built Accord and Civic flew out of showrooms. Then something changed.
Around 2005, Honda launched a new Civic that looked like a spaceship, putting some traditional buyers off. And 2008’s new (Japanese-built) Accord aimed at the Audi A4 and missed. Honda’s market perception took a big hit.
At the same time, Skoda was going great guns, with good products, bulletproof reliability and helpful dealers. A string of customer satisfaction surveys named Skoda owners the happiest in the country.
The trend continues. Honda is struggling while Skoda grows year after year. I think the two are connected.
Think about someone you know who has a Honda. Chances are they are middle-aged, earn a good living and live in a nice semi-detached house. Solidly middle class, then.
Now think about someone you know who owns a Skoda. There won’t be too far different from the Honda driver. For my part, I know a solicitor, a doctor, a wine seller and an FE teacher who own Skodas.
I think Skoda has replaced Honda as the car of choice for the UK’s middle class. Skodas are the very embodiment of traditional middle class values; they are conservatively styled, solidly built, reliably engineered and you get a lot of car for your money.
Think about it: you seen many more Superbs than Accords on the roads, more Octavias than Civics and more Fabias than Jazzes. It can’t be a coincidence. Really the only advantage Honda has is the CR-V, which outsells Skoda’s Yeti.
These things are, of course, cyclical. Honda displaced Rover, Skoda displaced Honda and Skoda buyers will eventually take a shine to another manufacturer. Toyota, perhaps. Or maybe Kia.
Whatever. Skoda is make hay while the sun shines, as Honda tries to refind its feet – maybe the new HR-V crossover will help…