FRANKFURT - Skoda will produce a Volvo fighter in about two years.
At the Geneva auto show last March, VW Chairman Ferdinand Piech described his brand strategies. Skoda was to be a Volvo competitor and Volkswagen a Mercedes fighter. At the time, some people dismissed the idea.
It was no joke.
In October, VW showed a W-12 engine at the Tokyo auto show that will be used in a car to compete against the S-class.
Now Skoda is developing a large car based on the same platform as the Audi A6. It is designed to use a W-8 engine, say Volkswagen sources. The 3.8-liter, 32-valve engine will make 300hp at 4,300rpm.
Piech has not wavered from his goal to bring Skoda further upmarket.
'Skoda will not stop with four cylinders,' he said at the Detroit auto show last month, giving notice of his plans.
Piech said sales of the Skoda Octavia demonstrate successful positioning of the brand. He said Skoda has 'high quality and performance at Korean prices.'
The Octavia is currently Skoda's largest car, based on the A-platform used by the VW Golf. Skoda sold 18,484 Octavias in western Europe last year.
Skoda now competes against the GM Vectra, Ford Mondeo and some Japanese cars, said Helmut Weber, a Skoda dealer in Munich.
Skoda has risen a long way since VW bought control in 1991.
It has been transformed from an unprofitable, low-quality, eastern European manufacturer to a brand with global ambitions. Skoda is planning plants in east Europe and India. Sales grew 36.8 percent in 1997.
Skoda's W-8 would be based on the W-12 that Volkswagen showed in Tokyo. The Volkswagen brand will use it in a car to compete with the Mercedes-Benz S-class in Asia, and Audi is likely to use it also. The W-12 is based on a pair of VR6 engines that connect at an angle of 72 degrees. Volkswagen insiders said a W-16 is being developed as well.
Piech asked VW engineers to develop W-shaped engines that fit into smaller engine bays.
At 340mm long, the Skoda W-8 will be shorter than a conventional V-8 and will fit in mid-size bodies, said the VW sources.
Skoda wants to have the lowest-price car in the upper-medium segment, according to the insiders.
'At the moment our customers are not ready for an eight-cylinder Skoda,' said dealer Weber. 'We do not currently regard ourselves as competitors for Volvo. But with the right marketing, I believe the car will be a success.'