John McIlroy 13 Nov, 2019 (All day)
As the Skoda Kamiq goes on sale in the UK, we take an in-depth look at the story behind this new SUV
Skoda is on a roll, enjoying record sales as the company gears up for its 125th birthday in 2020. Now there’s a new arrival in the brand’s showrooms: the Kamiq. We’ve been to the Czech Republic to get the inside line on the design process – and chatted to Skoda boss Bernhard Maier about the unusual challenges that come with sales success.
The Kamiq is also the most connected Skoda ever, thanks to the latest version of the company’s infotainment system – so we take an in-depth look at its development. And we meet Skoda’s chassis and powertrain boss, a man whose family history is inextricably intertwined with that of the company.
We’ve also visited a Czech glassblowing company to get a better idea of the tradition that inspires much of Skoda’s design these days, taken some of the brand’s concepts to the streets for a glimpse into its electric future, and visited a British dealer to see why the Kamiq will be crucial here. To cap it all, we’re giving one lucky reader the chance to drive the new car for six months.
Scroll down for our interview with Skoda CEO Bernhard Maier, or click on the links to the left or further down for the full story on the new Skoda Kamiq…
Skoda CEO Bernhard Maier tells us about the firm’s plans to attract new customers to the brand with the Kamiq
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Image 3 of 7
Skoda boss Bernhard Maier has a problem: his company literally cannot make its cars quickly enough. The Czech manufacturer, 125 years old next year, set a record in 2018 of more than 1.2 million cars sold worldwide. And yet Maier knows that this figure could have been higher if he’d had a few more vehicles available.
Many car brands would be happy enough to be presented with this issue, of course. But even so, it’s not about to get any easier with the arrival of the Kamiq, a vehicle that is designed to appeal not only to those who loved the original Yeti, but also to customers who want family-car space at supermini money.
Indeed, as we chat behind the scenes at Skoda’s Frankfurt Motor Show presentation, Maier displays a mixture of satisfaction and mild concern.
“All of our expectations have been met on the initial reaction to Kamiq,” he says. “In fact, they have been overly met. The feedback from the press, from customers who have seen it so far, is absolutely amazing. So I suppose this car will be a pace-setter. At least, it has all of the ingredients to be one.”
Kamiq is being produced at Skoda’s home factory of Mlada Boleslav in the Czech Republic, where its assembly line replaces that of the Rapid – a car that customers in Britain never really warmed to.
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Image 4 of 7
However, the new arrival should be a very different proposition in terms of demand. And this takes us back to Skoda’s biggest single issue: building enough cars.
Maier shrugs; it’s not as if you can set up a 300,000- vehicle-per-year plant overnight, after all. Then he reveals a potential solution. “Manufacturing enough cars is the overall challenge we face; not just with the Kamiq,” he says. “We’ll do whatever we can to improve the situation with the help of the Volkswagen Group production network, and of course in our Czech plants.
“There’s still some room for improvement, I must say, but it’s not a huge amount. The problem is that we have full employment and even over-employment in the Czech Republic, which makes things even more difficult.”
He’s not joking on the determination to squeeze every car possible out of those factories, incidentally; Skoda sunk more than 500 million euros into its Czech production facilities in 2018, including new data centres and building a state-of-the-art paint shop in Mlada Boleslav.
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You can see why these would be key investments to help with Kamiq, in fact, because it is the most connected Skoda ever and also a vehicle designed to appeal to younger customers, especially those with families.
Maier chuckles when asked if this car, not the Karoq, is really the spiritual successor to the Yeti. “Size-wise, you’re probably right,” he acknowledges. “But we’re looking for a broader appeal than that. The small SUV segment is the fastest-growing area of the market in lots of countries. Yes, the Yeti was a wonderful car but it was in its ages, so we had to come up with something new. And the Kamiq is something of a crossover as well – not just an SUV. This type of car is highly appreciated by our customers these days, so it’s absolutely the right time for it.”
The Kamiq is the latest in a long line of ‘smart Skodas’ that take the building blocks offered by the wider VW Group and do something clever with them.
This is a trait that started with the original Octavia and was particularly clear on the first Yeti; that car mixed components from various other models to offer a size of SUV that was unique in the market as a whole, not just within the brands that make up the VW Group.
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Now with Kamiq, Skoda has elected to use the longest possible version of the MQB A0 platform – the same underpinnings that feature on the Scala hatchback, but also in shortened form on everything from the Audi A1 to the SEAT Ibiza and Arona. And stretching that size as much as possible has made Skoda’s latest baby the first vehicle in its class that could conceivably be used as a proper family car.
“That’s the USP of Kamiq,” Maier tells us. “It’s like nothing in the class. It’s something we always aim for, really – and you can say the same about Scala, Octavia or Superb. We manage to offer more roominess for the same price as many of our rivals – more car for the money. That’s why we have such a high level of loyalty from our customers.”
And this is unlikely to change any time soon – especially if, as Maier expects, the Kamiq gives lots of new people a fresh reason to try a Skoda. And keeps those already committed to the brand even more satisfied.
Click below for more on the new Skoda Kamiq…