The new car registration figures for the first five months show ups and downs – often related to model renewal schedules, sales pushes, discounts, incentives, the usual activities familiar in all sorts of commerce.
Significant gains have come from that VW Group Crewe outpost, Bentley, and even better from Indian-owned Jaguar, up 78 per cent thanks to the baby XE. Infiniti sales have almost doubled, with the arrival of the Sunderland-built Q30. The Fiat-based Renegade has given Jeep a 38 per cent hoist. Audi, perhaps suffering from the VW Group emissions bodging, fails to make the gains seen at BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche but regains its pole position among the German posh marques.
Volkswagen per se still suffers from the emissions scandal and is down 6 per cent, VW’s Spanish SEAT fell 8.5 per cent and Mitsubishi, another emissions culprit, has dropped 16 per cent. Maserati and Lotus, neither with any emissions sins I know of, are down nearly 15 points each. Maybe if Lotus’s press office at least replied to my emails requesting a car to test I could help it with a few sales. Easily the biggest seller (52,476) is the Ford Fiesta, followed by Corsa, Focus, Golf, Qashqai, Polo, Astra, A3, Mokka, Mini.
In the circumstances afflicting Volkswagen’s mass market brands, Czech-based Skoda should be pleased with a six per cent gain this year in Britain. It comes after a slight sales drop to 74,879 last year from a peak of 76,027 in 2014. New for this year was the Superb. After a brief spin I’d say it’s about equal to an Audi – sitting between an A4 and A6 in length and using lots of VW Group hard- and soft- wear. The Skoda is cheaper. It looks as posh. A tarted up SportLine model is coming.
The rest of the Skoda range tilts at mass-market rivals, the tiddly Citigo, the Rapid and Fabia models, the Yeti estate, the Octavia range. It’s a tough market sector with so many good cars and some modest regrading – such as the Colour editions of Citigo and Fabia and Citigo Monte Carlo – gives the dealers something to promote ahead of brand-new models. There are 129 retailers, stretched between Helston and Inverness.
Subject to surprises, the next new model is the Kodiaq, a 4x4 SUV seating up to seven and just a bit longer than Audi’s Q5, a bit shorter than a Superb and substantially shorter than the soccer mums’ Q7. It will be here this year, as yet unpriced. It will have to be good value against a Q5 – allowing that the Audi is a five-seater.
Skoda’s first car appeared in 1925 but the company boasts an older heritage, based on its takeover of Laurin and Klement, which began as a push-bike maker in 1895. Skoda per se was making weapons in 1869. Its general works made components for the waterways at Niagara Falls and Suez. By the 20th century it was one of Europe’s major armourers. Its Panzer tanks were used by the Germans in Second World War to invade Poland and France and the Soviet Union.
That did nobody any good but oddly the carmaker who came out of it best was Volkswagen, thanks to the Allies who put it back on its wheels. Czechoslovakia came under Communist rule, with physical invasion by the Soviets in 1968, effectively closing down any hopes of Skoda making modern cars until the Velvet Revolution in 1989 which threw out communism. All friends now, Germany’s Volkswagen took over Skoda in the 1990s. The old Skoda jokes faded and by the turn of the century it was making decent cars, after the breakthrough of the 1996 Octavia and in 1999 the Fabia, each based on VW kit but cheaper and really very pleasant.
Today, Fabia is the company’s No 2 seller in Britain behind the mid-size Octavia which takes three in ten sales. Taxi drivers favour the Octavia. It seats four fares and has a holiday-sized boot. It drives nicely, looks smart, not too flashy but not too dull.
Seen here is the latest high performance model, the Skoda vRS 230. The paint finish looks like undercoat grey but the brochure says it’s Meteor Grey. The vRS badge denotes Skoda’s performance versions. A Fabia vRS is a subtle pocket rocket. In 15 years we have become the main buyers of vRS versions.
You’d have to be thrashing the Octavia before you found flaws in the handling – at speeds which would look daft these days. How you use all that power is up to you.
Verdict: Fun, does the job. Will impress other Octavia owners.