Despite a sagging economy in its home market of the Czech Republic, Skoda continues to improve its sales performance. Almost 200,000 Skodas were sold in the first half of this year - 10.6 percent up on the equivalent period in 1998.
But perhaps the most impressive part of Skoda's renaissance is the way it is progressing in Europe's biggest, and possibly most demanding, markets.
During the first six months of 1999, its sales in Germany and the UK rose by 40.4 and 67.5 percent respectively.
Integral to that renaissance has been Detlef Wittig, deputy chairman of the Skoda board, responsible for sales, marketing and finance. He has helped define a modern brand strategy for the company, while drawing on Skoda's rich heritage. That strategy sees Skoda aiming toward Volvo's market.
'The analogy between Skoda and Volvo is about where the heart and soul of the Skoda brand lies,' Wittig says.
'Our qualities are similar to those of Volvo. Skoda is basically a central European brand. Through Skoda, we want to help return Prague to its rightful position as the center of Europe.
'We see the whole of Russia as a market for us, and all of central and western Europe. We will expand into Muslim countries and the Far East. After that, Japan and Australia.'
This clarity of vision has meant that Skoda's turnaround has not just depended on the vastly improved product under Volkswagen. Wittig and his sales teams have realized that sensible pricing and measured growth - taking care not to flood markets with unwanted supply - is the only way to build a brand.
With an upper-range executive car on the way, that brand will be established in four or five years, says Wittig.
'It took BMW 25 years to get where it is today,' he says. 'For Audi, it took us 15 years to position the brand properly. For Skoda, we need half that time.'
Nevio di Giusto
Product Development Head (more than one car)
Nevio di Giusto, senior vice president, platform development at Fiat Auto, led the team that created the innovative Fiat Multipla - the first Fiat to be built using spaceframe technology.
After taking his current job in 1997 he led implementation of an innovative platform strategy for the entire Fiat Auto group.
Under the new strategy, cars will be developed using a combination of traditional stamped floorpan and upper section built from a steel spaceframe. That promises a combination of flexible design and low investment.
Di Giusto spent nearly two decades in executive positions at Fiat Auto covering aerodynamism, vehicle architecture and styling before being appointed to his current position.
As platform boss, di Giusto is closely involved in nine new models. Among these are several developments on the Multipla theme, including a four-wheel-drive model and a three-seater pickup. He will also see the original Multipla through its production life.
'The shape of the Multipla looks rather like the traditional Italian coffee maker, and does not appear to be aerodynamic,' says di Giusto. 'But it is actually founded on a typical aeronautical combination between two shapes. The lower and upper body are combined at an angle that is optimum for good aerodynamics.'
Di Giusto's novel solution for fitting six people and their luggage within a vehicle no more than 4 meters long also turned out to be the natural partner to spaceframe construction, with which Fiat had been experimenting. This offered the combination of flexible design and low investment the company sought. Fiat only has to sell 40,000 Multiplas a year to make a profit.
Thanks to Michael Macht, Porsche has been able to broaden its product range without building a new plant.
At a time of increasing demand for its Boxster and 911 models, Macht's strategy to build Boxsters at contract manufacturer Valmet Automotive in Uusikaupunki, Finland, allows greater flexibility at Porsche's plant in Zuffenhausen, Germany. Zuffenhausen builds both the Boxster and 911.
The main aim of the 'virtual factory' concept is to explore major growth opportunities without accumulating significant fixed costs.
Porsche will build about 20,000 Boxsters this year, and Valmet will account for more than half that total.
At 39, Macht is the youngest member of the Porsche board. Analytical and rational, he enjoys an excellent working relationship with company head Wendelin Wiedeking.
Macht will pursue the 'virtual factory' strategy with the future Porsche off-roader, a car currently under development in a joint venture with Volkswagen.
Although no factory has been chosen, the Stuttgart-born and trained engineer will play an important role in the eventual production-site decision. The Porsche off-roader is due for launch in spring 2002.
Macht knows he must repeat his success in implementing Porsche production processes and quality standards right from the start at the next 'virtual factory.'
At Valmet, where Boxster production started in autumn 1997, top-level customer satisfaction ratings were achieved from the beginning. Macht has also managed to steadily increase output at Finland without compromising quality standards.
Deputy Chief Executive
When Adam Opel AG announced plans for its new ultra-efficient Resselsheim factory earlier this year, the workers' union was supportive despite knowing that up to 3,000 jobs would be eliminated.
The union had been kept up to date about plans for the factory before they were even finalized and approved. It agreed to concessions, including fewer jobs.
It wasn't the first time that Opel and its unions have worked closely together. In Germany, Opel has made greater strides in labor negotiations than parent General Motors has managed in the USA. Much of the credit goes to Wolfgang Strinz.
Strinz was the executive responsible for several landmark labor contracts, before being promoted to deputy chairman of Opel's management board last November.
'Back in 1980, we traveled around the world with our key works council members,' said Strinz, 61. 'We visited Japanese manufacturers 10 years before the book The Machine That Changed The World was published. We informed them of the productivity gap.
'This was the start of a long communication process. We needed to convince our workers of the need to improve productivity and quality,' said Strinz.
His previous jobs included building up Opel's new Corsa manufacturing plant in Zaragoza, Spain, and being general manager of the factory in Bochum, Germany.
Strinz became deputy chairman at a time when Opel's market share was declining. Its reputation had also become tainted by quality problems.
The job was a new one at Opel. Along with manufacturing duties on the board, Strinz was given unprecedented responsibility to assist new Chairman Robert Hendry.
Strinz provided continuity and experience at the top, freeing Hendry to concentrate on broad issues such as defining Opel's brand strategies. With both market share and morale on the rise, Opel's new top management team is proving successful.
Diana T. Kurylk
(now president, Ford of Europe)
Chief Executive, Passenger Car Division
Nick Scheele could have rested on his past accomplishments and eased gracefully into retirement at Jaguar. During seven years at the helm, he brought Jaguar back from the brink and placed it on the threshold of an exclusive club of truly global volume luxury-car brands. His name had become inextricably intertwined with the leaping cat.
But Nick Scheele, 55, started his career in 1966 as a Ford man, and it is to Ford that he now returns.
Some might say he is a masochist for taking on this challenge: the presidency of Ford of Europe.
That's because Ford of Europe appears a weak sister next to its North American counterpart. While truck sales have powered Ford's North American operations to record profits, Ford of Europe's market share and profits have declined steadily.
Scheele's job is to reverse that slide. He must begin the job in Germany, Europe's largest and most important car market, and a place where Ford has long struggled in the shadow of Volkswagen and Opel. Ford's products are not perceived as the equal of those of its rivals in Germany. The Focus will help erase that impression, but it will not revive Ford's fortunes alone.
Scheele is uniquely qualified for the task at hand. The white-haired executive exudes charm, speaks German fluently and understands the culture implicitly. His years as a purchasing executive taught him the art of spending wisely and frugally at the manufacturing end of the business. His time at Jaguar gave him a global view and a keen marketing sense.
And Jac Nasser has made it clear he wants Scheele to hang around for a while, putting an end to the revolving door at Ford of Europe's executive suite in Cologne. If Scheele can perform the same magic at Ford of Europe that he did at Jaguar, his place in Ford history will be secure.
The sweeping curves of the Jaguar S-type sedan will stand as a fitting memorial to the late Jaguar styling director Geoff Lawson, who died suddenly in June at the age of 54.
Lawson's designs for the S-type and the forthcoming X400 laid the foundation for Jaguar's entry into the global luxury sweepstakes. The dramatic and somewhat controversial S-type presents luxury buyers with a clear alternative to the Teutonic shapes of the Mercedes-Benz E-class and BMW 5 series, the cars the S-type is most clearly aiming at.
Jaguar wants its vehicles to appeal to the individualist - the customer who wants something a bit different. Love it or hate it, the S-type is one of the most distinctive sedans on the road.
The car is particularly striking from the front, although less so from the rear - a fact which Lawson admitted.
'I'm never pleased,' he once said. 'Designers never are. They only see what is wrong. Designing a new Jaguar for me is not an egotistical phenomenon. It's about solving problems that are often difficult and complex.'
In the period leading up to his untimely death, Lawson and his team were putting the finishing touches to the X400, also known as the 'baby Jaguar.' Dealers who have been shown the car say it is a real stunner. The X400 is not set to appear until mid-2001.
Geoff Lawson may be gone, but his work will linger on the world's roads for a long, long time to come.