Here’s a good pub trivia quiz question: which anniversary is Skoda celebrating this year? The answer will be a surprise to many. Although Skoda has long since ceased to be the butt of lame jokes that it once was (sample: what do you call a Skoda convertible? A skip …) and has built a firm reputation as part of the Volkswagen Group, it is actually a far older manufacturer than most imagine.
So is this its centenary? No, it’s even older. The company’s history goes back 120 years, to its early roots as a bicycle manufacturer. The story began in 1895, in Mlada Boleslav, a town about 30 miles from Prague in what was then Czechoslovakia, now the Czech Republic. That is where the company was founded, and which is still home to Skoda’s headquarters and main factory today.
Skoda owes its ancient roots to two men, mechanic Vaclav Laurin and bookseller Vaclav Klement, who joined forces to set up a business designing and making bicycles five years before the dawn of the 20th century. With engines added, this quickly morphed into a motorcycle business. Within a decade, in 1905, the first car appeared, so Skoda is also celebrating 110 years as a car maker.
Its first car was the Voiturette, which means ‘little car’ in French. It had a 1.2 litre, two-cylinder engine with an output of just seven bhp. The gearbox was three-speed, and the car’s top speed was 24 mph.
The company was initially called Slavia. In 1925, following a merger with another firm, Pizen Skodova, this changed to Skoda. The two entrepreneurial founders Laurin and Klement are still remembered today on the badges of some of Skoda’s more up-scale models.
Million a year
If anyone questions how well Skoda is doing today, the sales figures tell the story. Last year the Czech car maker sold more than a million vehicles around the world. As well as its factories on home territory in the Czech Republic, it also has manufacturing plants in China, India, Slovakia, Russia, the Ukraine and Kazakhstan.
Skoda became part of the Volkswagen Group in 1991, and has earned growing respect for a range of models that includes the Fabia, Yeti and Superb. With its ‘Simply clever’ marketing slogan, Skoda delights in adding handy removable features to its cars, such as boot lights that unclick to become portable torches and folding umbrella concealed in the armrests on the front doors of the Superb.
Today’s Skoda cars proudly wear a modernised version of the original winged arrow logo that has long been the company’s symbol. It took its inspiration from the old symbol of an American Indian, or native American as they are now known.
You may be surprised to know what the name Skoda means. It translates from its original Czech language to mean damage or loss, and was apparently originally a nickname for someone who is accident-prone. Which when you think about it, is a pretty unfortunate name for a car! It has hardly been a handicap, though, well over a century on from the birth of a modern Skoda car’s ancient 19th century ancestors.