Werner Eichhorn, Škoda: “All-new Superb is start of a new era for Škoda”
Does Werner Eichhorn, Member of the Board for Sales & Marketing, have the best job in the world? Fact is, there's never been a greater moment to do Sales and Marketing for Škoda. The all-new Superb adds a generous dash of sensuality to the 'Simply Clever' brand. “We expect it to attract a lot of new customers”, says Werner Eichhorn. Especially in the fleet segment – a huge and growing chunk of Škoda's sales.
How important are corporate fleet sales in Škoda's strategy?
“Very important, and increasingly so: the share of fleet sales in Škoda's global total rose from 41% in 2013 to 49% last year. This is because of our strong focus on fleet strategy development, helping our dealer network formulate fleet sales arguments”.
“But the main reason is that our corporate clients are very impressed with Škoda – not just by the TCO studies for our new models, or Škoda's high level of service support, but also by the strong residual values offered by our cars. And of course by the fact that our models fit the car policies of our fleet customers”.
Do you have an example?
“The third-generation Škoda Octavia, for instance: a resounding success, and a firm favourite of many corporate fleets across a wide range of markets. Or the Škoda Fabia and Fabia Combi, launched in all our markets”.
“In order to deliver quality and consistency for these and other fleet Škodas, we'll be refining our service models, build on our after-sales service and further expand our dedicated Fleet Service across Europe”.
Talking about specific models: Škoda is referring to its all-new Superb as a turning point in its history. How important exactly is it for the brand – and for its fleet sales?
“For us, the all-new Superb is indeed the start of a new era. The new Superb is our fleet ambassador – our fleet flagship. We sold our previous-generation Superb to no less than 80% of our fleet customers. So we're confident that the sales of the new Superb will also be heavily oriented towards fleet”.
“More than that: we think the new Superb will be a game-changer on the fleet market. It's a giant step forward, in both technology and design. The feedback we've received so far is tremendously positive. We expect the new Škoda Superb to attract a lot of new customers, especially from the upper segments”.
Škoda had a great 2014. How will you repeat this success in 2015?
“Last year, for the first time in our history, we sold over 1 million vehicles. That was yet another milestone in our model campaign. “That model campaign continues in all markets. We recently launched the third-generation Škoda Fabia and Škoda Fabia Combi across most European markets, and in the months to come, we'll be launching the new Škoda Superb”.
“We realise that the economy remains challenging in some markets, and we do expect some headwinds. But with our fresh model line-up and with our production capacity fully available for our new models. So far we managed to stay successful."
Still, specialists expect the European car fleet to grow only slightly this year. Specifically, what are your forecasts for Europe?
“The short-term prognosis for Europe is indeed that the recovery in the demand for passenger cars will continue at a moderate pace. In Germany – Škoda's main European market – we expect a slight increase in demand. Sales in the rest of Western Europe will likely reflect the regional economic situation, so we anticipate a slight year-on-year increase. The same also goes for Central Europe”.
This seems to be the year of the SUV. Will there be a Škoda SUV soon? And which other segments will you be investing in?
“The central plank of Škoda's growth strategy is our model campaign – which is both the most far-reaching ever in our history, and well on course to be successful in equally historical terms. As part of that ongoing campaign, it's possible to envisage extending our SUV range above the current Yeti. We're also looking forward to the successor of the Roomster. But those are subjects for later discussions – right now, we're dedicating all our focus to our new flagship – the new Škoda Superb and Škoda Superb Combi”.
Let's turn to connectivity and autonomous driving: real buzz words in the industry. But how are they actually driving the business of manufacturers like yourself?
“One thing is certain: the automotive business is changing rapidly. Gone are the days that the car was a product of mechanical engineering alone. Today's customers expect a product delivering a complex mix of services: basic transport, but also the joy of driving; low costs and low environmental impact, coupled with high levels of safety; and last but not least, up-to-date entertainment, infotainment and online services on board. We at Škoda understand that we must continue to adjust our company, our processes and our products to the customer changing demands”.
How are you doing that?
“We started doing this a few years ago, with the new Octavia. It was our first model based on the Volkswagen MQB modular system, which allowed us to introduce a wide range of assistance systems. In 2014, the new Fabia introduced another batch of brand-new solutions – and at an affordable price. And now we have the new Superb, top of its range not just in terms of size and power, but also for infotainment, connectivity and assistance systems”.
“The trend is clear: solutions introduced in higher segments are being made available in models with a more attractive price-value ration. For example: from June 2015 onwards, virtually all Škoda models can be equipped with Smartlink and Smartgate connectivity infotainment radios, which will enable Simply Clever connections between smartphone and car”.