Group Exklusiv will spend $200,000 on campaign; expects Skoda Superb to boost sales
Skoda drive to burnish its image

GROUP Exklusiv is spending $200,000 to revitalise the Skoda brand in Singapore. More than half will go towards the current month-long newspaper ad campaign, says Group Exklusiv, which owns Skoda distributor Czech Auto.

The rest will be for road shows, Internet marketing and other promotions until the end of the year.

The amount may not seem much compared with what some German and Japanese marques spend on advertising, but it represents a substantial amount for a brand that has only seen 30 units sold in the first half of 2004.

'The Skoda image is almost unknown here,' explains Oliver Glaeser, manager of the Czech carmaker's export sales overseas division. 'We have to sharpen our image first, show what we are and then bring our name to the people. When we have a small volume, we cannot run a big ad campaign.'

But he says he expects this volume to triple in the second half of the year because of the newly launched Skoda Superb saloon. Sales until the end of 2004 are forecast at 90 units, 60 of which will be the Superb, thus bringing the total for the year to 120 units.

By contrast, Czech Auto sold a total of 85 cars in 2003.

'We now have a good car for this market,' says Mr Glaeser. 'In the Superb segment, 1.8-litre turbo automatic, we are competitive with the Japanese models and we want to take a bite of the market share from them,' he added.

At last week's launch of the Superb, Czech Auto said it was targeting two of Singapore's most popular mid-sized cars - the Toyota Camry and Nissan Cefiro. It said the Superb was a worthy competitor because of its size, power and price.

The Superb is derived from the Volkswagen Passant but with a wheelbase lengthened by 100mm. Czech Auto also claims the 1.8-litre turbocharged engine is on par with the 2.3 and 2.4-litre engines of the Cefiro and Camry respectively. It adds that $113,000 price tag (after the introductory price of $108,000) is also in the region of these two Japanese models.

'The target market is upper management, executives and those in small and medium-sized enterprises,' reveals Mr Glaeser. 'We are targeting the upper Japanese car segment, not the price-sensitive segment like Korean models.'

Skoda is expected to produce 460,000 cars this year, marginally up from the 450,000 units in 2003. The marque has a 2 per cent market share in Europe. So why is it concentrating on a tiny market like Singapore?

'Singapore has strategic importance to the Asia-Pacific region. It shows that whoever is strong in Singapore is strong in the other markets too,' says Mr Glaeser, adding that this is why the Superb is crucial.

'It will create awareness for the brand, and then it will come down to the other models. It is easier to come from the top than to start from the bottom.'

In Europe, Skoda is seen as a sporty brand which offers good value. Its profile is raised by competing in the World Rally Championship and as the official car of the Tour de France. There is less perception of that sportiness in the region, he says. Instead, Skoda will maintain its value-for-money approach for the markets here.

The model range will be boosted by the year-end debut of the new Octavia. The new model, which is more than 4.5 metres long, is larger than the current car and will also have a longer wheelbase.

Based on the Volkswagen Golf platform, it will have a 1.6 FSI direct injection engine and what is said to be the largest boot in its class - 560 litres. It is going to be slightly more expensive than the current Octavia, which will be retained in the model line-up.

'The new Octavia will bridge the gap between the current Octavia and the Superb. The next few years will be successful for Skoda in the region,' says Mr Glaeser.