Marmite Imagery Does Not Jar, Claims New Skoda UK Chief

CHRIS Craft, recently appointed head of Skoda UK is pragmatic about the Czech cars retaining "love or hate" consumer responses, which he claims gives them the automotive status of Marmite.

But the former head of VW group services has no plans to mount a personal crusade to convert the 45 per cent of British car buyers rejecting Skoda as a buying option.

Craft firmly believes that enduring, but diminishing resistance to considering Skodas can be a positive asset.

He explains: "The significant 45 per cent element is OK. My job is not to persuade them that they're wrong. A proportion of people rejecting the brand means those who buy our cars make positive statements for and about themselves.

"We are the Marmite of the car sector. You either love us or hate us. We are not just out there existing, which would be boring."

Craft is not fazed about taking the helm at a time when Skoda sales have dipped compared to the spectacular 170 per cent growth achieved between 1998 and last year. He refuses to: "throw money at gaining business in a challenging and unsustainable trading environment".

Instead Craft has his sights set on a two per cent market share within five years which equates with 50,000 units, while Skoda currently earns a shade over 1.4 per cent of new car sales.

A second-generation and "significantly larger" Octavia, due to market in the UK next autumn, is pivotal to that growth. A new Fabia is slated for 2006 while a compact MPV could materialise from the Roomster concept shown at the Frankfurt show in September.

"We do business of a certain quality and return for our network. Skoda's UK parc stands at 189,000 and we have the positive benefit of it consisting of mainly young vehicles," emphasises Craft.

"Owner-driver," family-run businesses will remain at Skoda's retailing heart because, "they have been closest to our customers and know what works and does not work."

Major fleet buyers of Skodas include police forces, who favour Octavias, with around 300 examples on patrol, mainly the RS variant. Craft relishes the fact that a police chase television programme provided unscripted marketing muscle when one of the officers pursuing an Octavia RS confessed to being surprised at how difficult the stolen Skoda was to catch.

Published : 25/10/03 Author : Melanie Carter

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