The 85th anniversary of four POPULAR vehicles’ long-distance journey from Prague to Calcutta commemorates ŠKODA’s impressive tradition in India. The country soon became the seventh largest export market of the automobile manufacturer from Mladá Boleslav. In 2001, ŠKODA became the second European manufacturer to enter the Indian market and since then has steadily strengthened its position in the region. Under the ‘INDIA 2.0’ project, the company has been responsible for the Volkswagen Group’s model campaign on the Indian market since 2018.
In 1925 the engineering and defence company Škoda joined forces with the automobile manufacturer Laurin & Klement from the Bohemian town of Mladá Boleslav. The Pilsen-based company was already active in India at the time, and so the high-quality commercial and passenger vehicles with the winged arrow quickly gained acceptance on the roads of the subcontinent. Long-distance trips, especially in the 1930s, were among the most successful types of advertising at that time.
Eighty-five years ago, on Saturday, 12 May 1934, a group of four ŠKODA POPULARs set out on a trip from the Prague Automobile Club to India. The semi-convertibles had one-litre four-cylinder engines with an output of 15 kW (20 hp). ŠKODA’s new entry-level model, weighing in at 700 kg, carried a total load of 800 kg, including passengers. Led by Zbislav Peters, a lawyer and Czechoslovak ice hockey player, the seven participants embarked on a journey to India via the Balkans, Turkey, today’s Syria and Iraq. One crew even made a detour via Afghanistan. After arriving in Calcutta the ŠKODA POPULARs went on to Mumbai, and from there by ship to Trieste. From the northern Italian port, the vehicles headed back to the Czech Republic. By the time they arrived in Prague on 10 September 1934, they had covered nearly 15,000 kilometres, often over rough terrain and in harsh climatic conditions. On this long-distance journey, the new generation of ŠKODA vehicles proved their outstanding quality and reliability just as impressively as their high technical standards – the cars featured central tube frames and independent all-round suspension.
In the summer of 1936, Czech globetrotters Břetislav Jan Procházka and Jindřich Kubias circumnavigated the world in 97 days in a slightly modified open-top ŠKODA RAPID with an output of 23 kW (31 hp) and powerful hydraulic brakes. The journey also took the vehicle through India. Because of the ship’s early departure to Japan, the Quetta-New Delhi-Mumbai stage resembled a car chase: the fast and reliable RAPID made it in just three days.
Not least thanks to the advertising effects of these expeditions, the number of ŠKODA vehicles exported to what was then British India totalled 90 units per year in the second half of the 1930s. In 1938, India ranked seventh among the Czech automobile manufacturer’s 39 export markets. In light of the global social and economic change after the Second World War, only 150 ŠKODA vehicles were exported to India between 1947 and 1955, followed by ad hoc deliveries from the 1950s to the 70s. The brand, however, had no permanent representation.
The next chapter in ŠKODA’s success story in India began in 2001 when the company from Mladá Boleslav became the second European carmaker to operate in the local market with introduction of the OCTAVIA 2001, followed by flagship ŠKODA SUPERB (2001) and models LAURA (2006), FABIA (2008), YETI (2010) and RAPID (2011). Currently, Indian customers can choose from four model series: the RAPID, which is manufactured locally in Pune, and the OCTAVIA, the SUPERB and the KODIAQ, which are manufactured at the Aurangabad plant.
Over the past 18 years, ŠKODA has steadily consolidated its position in the Indian market, both in terms of the number of vehicles delivered and in brand awareness among Indian customers. The potential of the Indian market is immense: with currently more than 1.3 billion inhabitants, the country has the second highest population in the world, and GDP is growing at an annual rate of around seven per cent.
This makes the Indian market an important pillar of ŠKODA AUTO’s strategy. As part of the ‘INDIA 2.0’ project, the car manufacturer has been responsible for the Volkswagen Group’s model campaign on the Indian market since 2018. In January 2019, the technology centre was opened in Pune where vehicles that are tailored to the needs of customers on the subcontinent are being developed. These are to be manufactured 95 per cent locally based on the localised MQB A0-IN platform. This means that almost all vehicle components will be made in India. The car manufacturer will be presenting its first design study next year at the Delhi Motor Show. In the next phase of the project, the Volkswagen Group will examine the possibility of exporting the vehicles manufactured in India.