MLADA BOLESLAV, Czech Republic - Skoda has started production of a fun version of its Felicia pickup van for southern Europe.
The bright yellow convertible pickup, with a contrasting red, green or brown color, is not expected to make big profits.
The vehicle will not be sold in Skoda's home markets, where it appears to be in sharp contrast to the brand identity. In March, Volkswagen AG board member Klaus Kochs said Skoda would try to emulate Rover and Volvo, which are 'reliable and safe but somewhat boring.' The Felicia Fun may be sold in Germany.
'No great volumes of the Felicia Fun are expected,' said Wilfried Bockelmann, Skoda board member for product development. 'But it will help to change Skoda's image.'
A prototype of the new Felicia Fun was shown at the 1996 Geneva auto show, a year before Volkswagen Group announced brand strategies for Skoda, Seat, VW and Audi. Seat, the Spanish subsidiary, is supposed to be the young, sporty, joyful brand with a Mediterranean flair.
Skoda's Felicia Fun can convert from a compact pickup to a four-seat passenger vehicle that still has room at the back for luggage. It is aimed at younger drivers.
'This vehicle is not aimed at the typical Skoda customer, the family with two children,' said Bockelmann. 'It is fitted with a 1.6-liter engine, has a very stiff suspension and drives like a go-cart. It is really for playing around.'
The Felicia Fun will go on sale within a few months. It will cost around DM23,000 ($13,530).
Bockelmann said Skoda needed to develop a more exciting image in Mediterranean countries.
Skoda will bring out an Octavia wagon later this year that will be more traditional.
The wagon has a 'sporty look but still gives an impression of robustness and sturdiness,' said Bockelmann. It will have the same body style as the sedan from the B-pillar to the front. No further Octavia versions are planned.
'There will be no sports versions, cabriolets or coupes,' he said. 'That is not Skoda.'
The Felicia replacement is now being designed at Skoda's Cesana development center in Mlada Boleslav. The car will use the platform used by the next Volkswagen Polo.
'The new Felicia will, of course, be based on a platform strategy and modules. We are currently looking at what the modules should be and who should be the suppliers,' said Rolf Zimmerman, Skoda board member responsible for production and logistics.
The current Felicia has been in production since 1994.
Last year Skoda built almost 260,000 units. At the beginning of 1997 the Mlada Boleslav plant raised daily output to 850 units by moving from two to three shifts.
Customers now receive their cars within 6-8 weeks of ordering, said Milan Smutny, Skoda's public relations manager.