Official Site: Škoda Auto
Wikipedia: Škoda Auto
The following section is an excerpt from Wikipedia's Škoda Auto page on 17 November 2015, text available via the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Škoda Auto, more commonly known as Škoda, is a Czech automobile manufacturer founded in 1895 as Laurin & Klement. It is headquartered in Mladá Boleslav, Bohemia, Czech Republic.
The car manufacturer was acquired by Škoda Works in 1925. The company became a wholly owned subsidiary of the Volkswagen Group in 2000, specifically to fill the role as the group’s entry brand, although the Czech brand has shifted progressively more upmarket, with most models overlapping with their Volkswagen counterparts on price and features, while eclipsing them on space. Its total global sales reached 1.04 million cars in 2014 and had risen annually by 12.7 percent.
The Škoda Works were established as an arms manufacturing plant in 1859. Škoda Auto (and its predecessors) is one of the five oldest companies producing cars and has an unbroken history alongside Daimler, Opel, Peugeot and Tatra.
Laurin and Klement
The origins of what became Škoda Auto go back to the early 1890s when, like many long-established car manufacturers, a company started manufacturing bicycles. Škoda factories were founded in 1869. In 1894, 26-year-old Václav Klement, who was a bookseller in Mladá Boleslav, Kingdom of Bohemia (today's Czech Republic, then part of Austria-Hungary), was unable to obtain spare parts to repair his German bicycle.
Klement returned his bicycle to the manufacturers, Seidel and Naumann, with a letter, in Czech, asking them to carry out repairs, only to receive a reply, in German, stating: "If you would like an answer to your inquiry, you should try writing in a language we can understand". Not satisfied with the reply and realising the business potential, Klement, despite having no technical experience, decided to start a bicycle repair shop, which he and Václav Laurin opened in 1895 in Mladá Boleslav. Before going into partnership with Klement, Laurin was an established bicycle manufacturer in the nearby town of Turnov.
In 1898, after moving to their newly built factory, the pair bought a Werner "Motocyclette". Laurin & Klement's first motorcyclette, powered by an engine mounted on the handlebars driving the front wheels, proved dangerous and unreliable—an early accident on it cost Laurin a front tooth. To design a safer machine with its structure around the engine, the pair wrote to German ignition specialist Robert Bosch for advice on a different electromagnetic system. The pair's new motorcycle made its debut in 1899.
In 1900, with a company workforce of 32, local production began and 150 machines were shipped to London for the Hewtson firm. Shortly afterwards, the press credited them as makers of the first motorcycle. The first model, Voiturette A, was a success and the company was established both within Austria-Hungary and internationally. By 1905 the firm was manufacturing automobiles, making it the second oldest car manufacturer in the Czech lands after Tatra.
After World War I the Laurin & Klement company began producing trucks, but in 1924, after running into problems and being affected by a fire on their premises, the company sought a new partner.
Meanwhile, "Akciová společnost, dříve Škodovy závody" (Limited Company, formerly the Škoda Works), an arms manufacturer and multi-sector concern which had become one of the largest industrial enterprises in Europe and the largest in Czechoslovakia, started manufacturing cars in cooperation with Hispano-Suiza. Škoda sought to enlarge its non-arms manufacturing base and acquired Laurin & Klement in 1925. Most of the later production took place under Škoda's name.
An assembly line was used for production from 1930 onwards. In the same year a formal spin-off of the car manufacture into a new company, Akciová společnost pro automobilový průmysl or abbreviated ASAP, took place. ASAP remained a wholly owned subsidiary of the Škoda Works and continued to sell cars under the Škoda marque. Apart from the factory in Mladá Boleslav it included also the firm's representation, sales offices and services, as well as a central workshop in Prague. At the time, the car factory in Mladá Boleslav covered an area of 215,000 m2 and employed 3,750 blue-collar and 500 white-collar workers.
After a decline caused by the economic depression, Škoda introduced a new line of cars in the 1930s which significantly differed from its previous products. A new design of chassis with backbone tube and all-around independent suspension was developed under the leadership of chief engineer Vladimír Matouš and modelled on the one first introduced by Hans Ledwinka in Tatra. First used on model Škoda 420 Standard in 1933, it aimed at solving insufficient torsional stiffness of the ladder frame.
The new design of chassis became the basis for models Popular (845-1,089 cc), Rapid (1165–1766 cc), Favorit (1802–2091 cc) and the Superb (2.5–4 l). While in 1933 Škoda had a 14% share of the Czechoslovak car market and occupied third place behind Praga and Tatra, the new line made it a market leader by 1936, with a 39% share in 1938.
World War II
During the occupation of Czechoslovakia in World War II the Škoda Works were turned into part of the Reichswerke Hermann Göring serving the German war effort by producing components for military terrain vehicles, military planes, other weapon components and cartridge cases. Vehicle output decreased from 7,052 in 1939 to 683 in 1944, of which only 35 were passenger cars. A total of 316 trucks were produced between January and May 1945. The UK and US air forces bombed the Škoda works repeatedly between 1940 and 1945. The final massive air raid took place on 25 April 1945 and resulted in almost the complete destruction of the Škoda armament works and approximately 1,000 dead and injured.
Post World War II
When, by July 1945, the Mladá Boleslav factory had been reconstructed, production of Škoda's first post-World War II car, the 1101 series began. It was essentially an updated version of the pre-World War II Škoda Popular. In the autumn of 1945, Škoda (along with all other large manufacturers) became part of the communist planned economy, which meant it was separated from the parent company, Škoda Works. In spite of unfavourable political conditions and losing contact with technical development in non-communist countries, Škoda retained a good reputation until the 1960s, producing models such as the Škoda 440 Spartak, 445 Octavia, Felicia and Škoda 1000 MB.
In late 1959, the Škoda Felicia, a compact four-cylinder convertible coupe, was imported into the United States for model year 1960. Its retail price was around US$2,700, for which one could purchase a nicely-equipped V8 domestic car that was larger, more comfortable, and had more luxury and convenience features (gasoline retailed for less than 30 cents per gallon, so fuel economy was not of primary importance in America at that time). Those Felicias that made it to American ownership soon experienced a number of reliability problems, further damaging the car's reputation. The Felicia was therefore a poor seller in the States and leftover cars ended up being hied off at a fraction of the original retail list. Since that time, Škoda automobiles have not been imported into the U.S. for retail sale.
In the late 1980s, Škoda (then named Automobilové závody, národní podnik or abbreviated AZNP) was still manufacturing cars that conceptually dated back to the 1960s. Rear engined models such as the Škoda 105/120, Estelle and Rapid sold steadily and performed well against more modern makes in races such as the RAC Rally in the 1970s and 1980s. They won their class in the RAC rally for 17 years running. They were powered by a 130 brake horsepower (97 kW), 1,289 cubic centimetres (78.7 cu in) engine. In spite of its dated image and becoming the subject of negative jokes, Škodas remained a common sight on the roads of UK and Western Europe throughout the 1970s and 1980s.
Sport versions of the Estelle and earlier models were produced, using the name "Rapid". Soft-top versions were also available. The Rapid was once described as the "poor man's Porsche", and had significant sales success in the UK during the 1980s.
"Of course, that the Škoda became such a figure of fun was in part due to its ubiquity on Britain's roads. The company must have been doing something right." (from a BBC report on Škoda sales in 1980s)
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