Skoda, a Czech word that means “damage”, is also the name of one of the oldest automotive companies in existence. Based in the Czech Republic, the company was founded in 1895 by two friends, Václav Klement and Václav Laurin.
Klement and Laurin started their company as a simple bicycle repair shop after Klement was badly treated by a German bicycle manufacturer for repairs. Lauren already had experience manufacturing bicycles, while Klement was starting from scratch.
The pair built a factory to produce their own bicycles and in 1898, bought a new style of bike called the motorcyclette, by the Werner Brothers in France. This novel bicycle featured a motor between the handlebars, allowing the rider to get from place to place without having to pedal.
When the Werner motorcyclette proved to be both dangerous and quite unreliable, the pair enlisted the help of Robert Bosch, a German with a specialty in ignitions. He helped them design a new version of the powered bicycle which debuted as the Slavia motorcycle in 1899.
In 1900, 150 motorcycles, pedalled under the name “Voiturette A” were shipped to London and the reign of the Klement Laurin Company had begun.
The First World War was a big distraction to Klement and Laurin. They turned their factories to produce war items for the duration of the war and only returned to vehicles once it had ended, branching out into not only motorcycles and cars, but also trucks.
In 1905, the company began to produce cars as well, but in 1924, ran into another set-back. A massive fire destroyed the production line and left Skoda reeling. The newly introduced trucks were put on hold while they searched for a partner to help them recover from the disaster.
They found their partner in Skoda Works, the largest industrial business in the country. From then on, most products were produced under the Skoda brand.
During World War II, Skoda stopped regular production to support the German war effort and didn’t resume making cars until after the war had ended.
After the War
With the war years and German occupation behind them, Skoda set out to build its reputation internationally with tough little cars that stood up to the rigours of every day driving.
The company continued to build its line until 1960, when it went into a sort of dormant mode. Although Skoda was still making cars, no new designs were emerging. The same 1960´s models were still in production by 1980.
Finally, in 1987, a new model appeared, freshly designed by the Italian company, Bertone. It was an instant hit in Europe and nearby countries, while North America still scorned the Czech cars.
In 1991, Skoda linked with Volkswagen to form a fourth brand under the parent company. With the help of Volkswagen, the company has left the safe confines of the Czech Republic and made it out to the light of day, becoming evermore popular in Europe.
Up until the 1960´s, Skoda was consistently pumping out new models and designs. These included the 440 Spartak, 445 Octavia, and the Skoda 1000 MB, as well as the popular Estelle and Rapid models which were also used in racing.
After that, production of new models was non-existent until 1987, when the Italian-designed Favorit became available. This model began to close the technological gap between the East and the West. The Favorit was sold until the Felicia was introduced in 1996.
Once the merge with Volkswagen was complete, two new models were brought out, the Octavia and the Fabia. Since then, the market has been growing for the Skoda brand name. It has come out with new models, the Roomster and the Superb. Also, new for 2007 is the Praktik model.
In the Future
Although Skoda has been around longer than most car companies, it took its time getting to the level that it is at now. By consistently producing high-quality, reliable vehicles, it has certainly earned its great reputation. Now all that remains is to see if this company can successfully bridge the gap between two continents and emerge as a competitor in North America. For now, it seems content to produce mainly for the UK and Europe.
In 2006, Skoda reached its goal of making more than half a million cars in just one year, a sure sign that things are looking up for this Czech powerhouse.