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Skoda offers to revolutionise the Rolls-Royce image

SKODA Cars, once the butt of every motoring joke, is offering to give Rolls-Royce tips on how to brush up its image and improve its production techniques.

The offer has come from the UK chief of Skoda, which will be part of the same stable of marques as Rolls-Royce if Volkswagen's pounds 430m bid for the luxury car maker goes through. VW took control of Skoda in 1991.

Dermot Kelly, director of Skoda UK, said: "We were once known as the brand from hell but we have succeeded in changing... and can teach Rolls Royce something. The weakness with Rolls is its brand. It has a very powerful name but it has failed to develop it properly."

He said that whereas other luxury goods groups such as Dior, Chanel and Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton had succeeded in developing their brand, Rolls had not. Mr Kelly said that ultimately there was no reason why it could not be extended to other precision-engineered products such as luxury fountain pens. "That is what brand management is about. Developing the brand without diluting it."

Mr Kelly also said Rolls could learn from the revolutionary production techniques Skoda is pioneering in its new state-of-the art factory north of Prague in the Czech republic.

Mr Kelly said the company had come a long way since the rear-engined Skoda Estelle was branded "the worst car in Britain" by What Car magazine a decade ago.

This year Skoda plans to sell 25,000 cars in the UK - almost double its sales total in 1996. A new version of the Skoda Octavia is being launched in the UK next month priced at pounds 11,500 - some pounds 3,500 less than the Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Astra with which it will compete.

Mr Kelly said he did not have a favourite Skoda joke. He "swerved around" jokes like:

Q. "What do you call an open-top Skoda?"

A. "A skip."

But he admitted that the company did keep a scrapbook of the more memorable ones to remind itself of the bad old days.