Škoda UK brand director Rod McLeod claims that the Czech brand’s route to market will “change and evolve naturally” as it navigates the route to an electrified and more digitised future in car retail.
McLeod took up his post in February, after his predecessor Duncan Movassaghi made the switch to Volkswagen US as its new senior vice president of sales, and joins the brand following a period of continuous growth in recent years, with 2012’s sales of 53,249 increasing to 80,056 last year.
McLeod has confidence that the brand has a strategy that will see it continue to grow – especially in the retail sector.
Spelling out his vision for a future of AFVs and omni-channel sales at the launch of the Skoda Fabia hatchback, McLeod told AM that it was essential to get the basics right first. He said: “A lot (Skoda’s) growth is fuelled by the new products, but for me, it's about growth in the right segments.
“The growth in retail is 3% and really that's the most important channel overall, because that's showing the desirability of the brand and the products that we bring through – and that means sustainable growth going forward.”
As with all forward-looking car brands today, Škoda’s planning for the switch to electrification is well advanced.
McLeod said: “By 2020, we'll have the PHEV Superb and a pure electric Citigo. And then we'll have the car based on the Vision E concept . So we'll have quite a variety of models in a couple of years’ time and the Škoda landscape will look really different.
“Vision E will bring the quality of the MEB platform and great design, so it will be a classy product overcoming a lot of the issues around range anxiety today.
“Part of the growth in market acceptance of EVs is around range and that's changing very quickly: as a group, we’re making really good progress in that area.
“The EV market is expected to be around 10% by 2020, but going up to about 25% in 2025. It's really hard to call, but what is sure is that that trend will happen and we're fully committed to that.”
The other major change facing the industry is the effect digitalisation will continue to have on automotive retailing. McLeod was clear that clicks will work hand-in-hand with bricks in Škoda’s future.
Last month Skoda’s board member for sales and marketing, Alain Favey, stated that the brand would launch an online retail channel for sales of its new cars in 2019 in a bid to offer wider range of purchasing options to car buyers.
The Czech brand could be the first Volkswagen Group manufacturer to offer a new car online retail platform when it follow-up its venture into online “Virtual Tours” with the introduction of the direct sales.
Favey revealed the plan in an interview with Autocar magazine, but the publication said that he remained unconvinced that many people want to buy car virtually.
“It’s important that we offer the possibility, but many people still want a personal experience in the dealership,” said Favey.
Despite his reservations, Favey predicted that up to 10% of car buyers will purchase online by 2025.
Speaking to AM this week, McLeod was less forthcoming about the brand's online retail plans, but said: “If we look at society, e-commerce and online are absolutely progressing in all sectors of the marketplace, with several of our competitors using it in the UK, in terms of how they bring their cars to market.
“Our plans aren't finalised, but if we do delve into that area, the one thing we will do is that it will involve our retailer network as well. Our retailer network is an integral part of our future.
“How we go to market will change and evolve naturally, as retailing is changing over time with digitalisation, but they will be central to that process.
“We're getting about seven to eight million people going to skoda.co.uk per year, so it's a really important channel.
“There are a lot of people making up their mind about what car they want before they even get to the retailer. So as well as investing in the digital tools within the sales environment, we're investing heavily in terms of our web platforms, making it clearer, more engaging, more emotional, in terms of our products, and explaining that to get more people to our retailers.”
An example of that more engaging, more emotional response was the recent campaign featuring singer Paloma Faith, which has helped connect the brand with younger, more gender-balanced and family-oriented buyers.
With a significant media and social media presence, the campaign has certainly helped build brand awareness and drive footfall into Škoda’s 130 UK retailers, which all have a new, more modern corporate identity to entice prospects through the showroom doors.
Modern product, a solid and reliable retail network and the endorsement of a high-profile pop star? McLeod hopes that, even in an uncertain market, Škoda’s growth prospects will inspire confidence among its franchised retailers.