At the Paris auto show, Volkswagen’s wholly owned subsidiary Škoda rolled out a Golf-sized hatchback called the Rapid. The fastback five-door will be cloned for another VW vassal, Seat, and called the Toledo. Even though neither will be sold in the U.S., these two cars tell us a great deal about what’s happening inside VW right now. If you’re a VW fan in the U.S., much of this will sound familiar.
An amalgam of different global VW models, the Rapid borrows its back end from the U.S.-market Jetta—space saving torsion-beam suspension and all—and the front platform draws on the smaller Volkswagen Polo. Raiding the Volkswagen Group parts bin and using the older PQ25 platform instead of the newer MQB underpinnings has made the Rapid rather inexpensive indeed. Škoda says the Rapid is about the size of a Volkswagen Golf, putting it in the enormous C-segment market space against the Ford Focus and a host of other competitors.
So far, so good, right? This is where the head-shaking starts. Škoda already has a car in the C-segment. It’s called the Octavia, and it’s a smashing success. In fact, the Octavia and the rest of the Škoda lineup are so good—refined, rebadged, cheaper VWs—they’ve been eating Volkswagen’s lunch for a decade. When VW bought Škoda from the collapsed Czechoslovakian government in the mid-1990s, it was meant to be a l0w-cost budget brand: a purveyor of cheap cars at the bottom of the market, protecting Volkswagen and Audi from having to compete with undesirables like Hyundai and Kia. It’s a bad situation—and an embarrassment—that Škoda has moved from poor-man’s VW to thinking-man’s VW.
Two years ago, Volkswagen suits started quietly saying Škoda cars needed to be “coarsened” or “derefined.” Just imagine for a second if GM came out and said, “The Chevy Malibu is too good, and it’s stealing sales from Buick. We’re going to make it crappier.” Volkswagen is aiming to push Škodas in Eastern Europe, China, India, and the developing world. The Rapid is meant to return the Czech brand to the low end of the car market, and reposition Škoda as the brand it was meant to be for VW. Apparently the Octavia, already large for its segment, will grow larger still and nicer for its next generation.
The worrying thing is that even if it’s smart for VW to sell cheaper, less-refined cars in some markets, the U.S. may be lumped into the lower caste of countries. Volkswagen deemed its U.S.-market lineup too expensive, too nice, too upmarket. The response was the introduction of the current Jetta, which went way too far, and the Passat, which is a better balance between inexpensive and sufficiently refined. When speaking to Jonathan Browning, the CEO of Volkswagen of America, around the time of the Jetta’s introduction, he disagreed with our suggestion that the U.S. market was getting two different streams of products—Eurocars like the Golf and CC, and American sofas like the Jetta. “They’re all VWs,” Browning said.
Text Source: Car & Driver