Bernhard Maier, Skoda’s new chief, will inherit a brand in good shape when he takes on the role on Nov. 1, leaving his current job as Porsche’s sales and marketing boss.
Skoda is a star performer in the 12-brand Volkswagen Group. Last year for the first time it delivered over 1 million cars and achieved a record profit of 817 million euros, up 56 percent from the year before.
From its narrow sales base of former Soviet Union countries in central and eastern Europe, Skoda has successfully expanded into both highly competitive mature markets and emerging markets. China is now the brand’s biggest market with around a quarter of its sales last year, with Germany second, Russia is third and the UK fourth.
Skoda’s brand values of functionality, spaciousness and value for money have played well in all markets, even those for whom the Skoda badge is still remembered by many as a byword for poor-quality Soviet-era construction.
The brand has been aggressive about improving quality. The head of a VW Group supplier told me at the Frankfurt auto show last month that Skoda gave him a harder time on quality than the VW brand.
Skoda this year was top of the J.D. Power 2015 UK Vehicle Dependability Study.
Skoda is no longer considered a backwater for VW Group executives. Instead it’s an important step on the ladder upwards, often coming after a key China appointment.
Former Skoda chief Winfried Vahland, 58, revived VW's ailing operations in China before guiding Skoda to new sales and earnings records. Vahland had been seen as a future VW Group CEO before he quit this month rather than accept a new job as head of VW’s North American operations.
Skoda’s development head, Frank Welsch, who is expected to take over as VW brand r&d boss, Dieter Seemann, the brand’s head of purchasing and Werner Eichhorn, its head of sales and marketing, have all done extended stints in China.
Incoming CEO Maier, 55, has 15 years' experience selling and marketing exclusive luxury sports cars with Porsche. Now he must adapt to the mass-market to carry out Skoda’s aim to boost sales by 50 percent to 1.5 million by 2018.
He also has deal with a cooling Chinese market and collapsing Russian market. He also must address the problem of the 1.2 million existing Skoda cars fitted with VW’s emissions-cheating defeat device.
It’s a measure of how much how Matthias Mueller, his old boss at Porsche and new VW Group CEO, must rate his abilities to hand him what’s now become a prime position within the VW empire.