A brief history...
With 120 years of history, ŠKODA is one of the oldest automotive manufacturers in the world. From modest beginnings, the brand has produced a vast range of products over the last 12 decades, from bicycles to racing cars, with the original factory in Mladá Boleslav, Czech Republic always at the heart of operations.
The ŠKODA story began in 1895, when cycling fanatics Václav Laurin (a mechanic) and Václav Klement (a bookseller) started designing and manufacturing bicycles under the name Slavia. The bicycles sold well, so Laurin and Klement decided to take the next step – and add motors. The pair started making motorbikes in 1899, and changed the name of their company to the Laurin & Klement Co. While making nearly 4,000 motorbikes of various types, the pair started experimenting with a new phenomenon – the motor car - which began to gradually replace motorbikes from 1905 on.
During the early 1900s, Laurin and Klement could do no wrong and their first car, the Voiturette A, was a huge success, becoming a classic in Czech motoring history. When war began in 1914, the company started manufacturing for the armed forces too. However, due to the challenging economic conditions in Czechoslovakia at the time, Laurin and Klement needed a strong industrial partner to strengthen and modernise their company. They were now not only producing a range of cars, but also trucks, buses, aeroplane engines and agricultural machinery, such as motorised ploughs. To help realise their dream of building an even bigger company, they merged with engineering firm Pizen Skodovka Co in 1925 and became ŠKODA.
The early 1930s were difficult times for ŠKODA as it wrestled with a large range and a market deeply affected by the Great Depression. Luckily, the brand made a breakthrough with the ŠKODA Popular – an advanced new car that would provide the springboard for future growth.
Weighing only 650kg, the ŠKODA 420 Popular could reach 50mph and was offered at a fantastic price. It was a true car of the people and adaptable enough to be converted into a range of utility vehicles, such as ambulances and delivery vans. The Popular also empowered owners to venture far afield. In what would prove to be a great piece of product marketing for the brand, national hero and Czechoslovakian international footballer František Pláni?ka embarked on a four-month trip to India in a factory-prepared model, while the roadster version performed heroics on the 1936 Monte Carlo rally.
In 1939 came World War II and another period of turmoil for the brand. During the conflict, Czechoslovakia was occupied by Germany and the civilian car production programme was very limited. During this time, the majority of manufacturing supported the German war effort.
After World War II – which took a huge toll on ŠKODA’s manufacturing capacity – the company became a national enterprise. This period saw the ŠKODA Tudor successfully exported as far as Australia and the introduction of the mould-breaking ŠKODA 1200. This innovative model was updated several times before finally ceasing production in 1973.
The 1950s also saw the launch of the ŠKODA 440 which, in 1959, evolved into the first Octavia, named because it was the eighth model to be produced after the end of World War II.
The Czech economy performed well up until the 1960s, then began to suffer as new technology advanced rapidly in the western world. ŠKODA continued to make new and improved cars – in the form of the Octavia, the Felicia, the MB range and the Rapid – but production really only grew again with the arrival of the Favorit model range in 1987.
The political landscape of Eastern Europe shifted again in 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell and the new free market economy arrived. The government of the Czech Republic and the management of ŠKODA began to search for a strong foreign partner in an effort to secure the company’s long term international competitiveness.
In December 1990, they decided on Volkswagen and a joint venture began the following year. ŠKODA became the fourth brand in the Volkswagen group, alongside Volkswagen, Audi and SEAT.
Since then, ŠKODA has gone from strength to strength, manufacturing not only many excellent cars but many happy drivers. The brand’s 2015 range is its biggest ever in the modern era with seven product lines.
A full history of the brand can be downloaded in PDF form here.