In the recent months after acquiring the Octavia (read about it here:)
it amuses me when listening to friends and family around me comment about the car and the brand. The reactions range from a blank stare to guessing it being a Russian car. We have to admit, the Skoda brand awareness have a lot of room to grow. And it’s not surprising given there is zero activity to promote this awareness in our country. Honestly, I didn’t know Skoda has more than 100 years of history. I am aware that they’re part of the Volkswagen Audi Group and VAG has done a fantastic job at making Skoda a very successful international brand. Sadly, not very successful in Malaysia.
The distributor of the Skoda brand is Auto Phraha, a company under the Berjaya Group. It is located in Glenmarie, Shah Alam and currently sharing its premise with Bermaz Motor Sdn Bhd, the authorized importer and distributor of Mazda. A visit to the showroom may puzzle first timers. For one, the only major Skoda logo you can see is on the top right side of the building and is partially covered by trees (the left is Bermaz). The only clear indication that it is a Skoda showroom is a number of Skodas parked outside. It is understandable that many may miss this place. The good news is, I hear that Bermaz will be moving out to their new premise next door and the current place will be refurnished to be a full Skoda showroom. Good that they now have a proper home.
While we wait for the new (old) place to be up, lets look at the sales experience. There is no Skoda on display inside the showroom even though the building is supposedly shared with Mazda. All vehicles inside are Mazda. You then proceed to the front counter and ask the sales person where are the Skodas. The sales person then informs you they’re Mazda sales guys and tells you to wait while they attempt to locate the Skoda SA. On some days, that SA is not to be found
So, we conclude that Skoda Malaysia has:-
1) No proper showroom
2) No display cars that allows easy access of potential customers
3) No proper reception in the showroom
4) No sales advisors to provide information about what they’re supposed to sell
5) There is not a single printed or TV advertisement about Skoda.
See the problem?
Still, all is not lost for Skoda. Volkswagen is making lots of headway into the Malaysian automobile market and terms like TSi and DSG are becoming more common place at the local tea drinking sessions at the local coffee shops. Technologies that are also found inside Skoda. The way is being paved for it to make a big impact. So let’s play a hypothetical question; if Berjaya became serious in wanting to push Skoda here, how best to do it?
Let’s talk about Skoda’s model range. For the sake of comparison, let’s put the equivalent VW models that more and more Malaysians are familiar nowadays:
VW Polo – Skoda Fabia RS
VW Vento (aka a Polo with a boot) – Skoda Rapid
VW Jetta – Skoda Laura (previously Octavia)
VW Passat – Skoda Superb
In terms of engine types, we may have the 1.2 TSi, 1.8TSi and 2.0TSi. All of which are petrol engines which can’t leverage on VAG’s turbo diesel technology that made it so successful in other countries. Having said that, the other brands such as VW and Audi also suffers the same handicap so fair game for all. Presently, Auto Praha offers the Skoda Octavia (Laura) RS (sporting the ubiquitous Golf GTi 2.0litre TSi engine) and Superb (powered by the same 1.8TSi engine in the new Passat). Both are selling at prices above RM180k, well beyond the reach of most Malaysians. Imagine this: one of VW’s key objectives is to make it affordable until it’s “the People’s Car”. And Skoda is supposedly a little bit cheaper compared to VW. Auto Praha’s decision to bring in the most expensive Skoda models makes it an insurmountable task in building the brand. In other words, it’s pricing itself out of the Malaysian automotive equation.
Let us assume that Auto Praha wakes up to this fact that decides to launch the Fabia, Rapid and Laura (and pricing them 5-10% cheaper than the equivalent VW model), the next task it needs to tackle is how to position its cars against other contenders in the same segment (this includes its sister companies, VW and Audi). Obviously, it can’t carve a more significant market share simply by price, especially when the Koreans are fast catching up. Depending overtly much on the roots of VAG is also not ideal since 1) the Skoda brand is far less developed compared to VW. Skoda is NOT VW no matter how similar they are and 2) VAG’s global strategy is to set up 3 tiers of brand positioning: Audi for luxury, VW for medium and Skoda for value-for-money. Skoda needs to stand on its own two feet and present a 3rd affordable VAG for the public.
Revamping the model line-up is a definite must. In our market where prices are insanely inflated due to taxes, promoting the most expensive contradicts the positioning of Skoda. I am actually a bit surprised that Skoda is content with the current sales turnover (which I do not expect to be a lot) for the entire Malaysia. Bringing lower priced models may sway those considering more expensive Japanese and Korean models.
Next is to segment the market, analyze the target group and purchase the appropriate above/below the line advertisement. Ever seen a Fiat advertisement lately on TV? No? Not surprised that Fiat is dying here, isn’t it? No car manufacturer can ever hope to establish itself without generating noise in the market; loud enough to be heard …. better if it can drown out the competition.
Do test drive sessions, give long warranty (remember, it has to be as good as, if not better than what VW is offering now which is 5 years), free service and maintenance, demonstrate how spacious and practical having a Skoda at home (seriously, after getting the Octy, no other boot is ever the same), run a advertisement campaign giving away a free car to get more info on those who’re interested to know (and hopefully buy) more about the brand are just some of the few strategies Auto Praha can do. Focus on location with the appropriate demographics. Do online marketing. Facebook is free.
Skoda should be positioned as a viable alternative, not as a direct competitor to other continental brands considering it’s relatively weak branding here in Malaysia. It should aim at those looking for something different yet have the assurance that the money they are paying is getting them what their money is worth. Don’t bother with the Baby Boomers (they’re probably too ingrained in the T & H brand), focus on the late Gen X and Gen Y buyers …. they are more receptive in stepping outside established norms and try new things.
Expand the distribution network. Probably start 3 on your own before pitching it to others to open dealerships. At least the 3 main cities (Klang Valley, Penang, Johor) must have at least one for the convenience of owners.
There’s so many things that can be done …. yet the brand has remained static for years. I do hope someone does something more so that everyone. And I hope to see something like this in one of its new model launches:-
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