Every great company starts from small beginnings. Such is the case for Skoda which recently celebrated its 125th anniversary.
While the company may be now known for building cars such as the Octavia, Superb, Fabia, as well as the Kodiaq, the "winged-arrow' brand actually got its start making bicycles and motorcycles over a century ago in pre-WWI Austria-Hungary.
It all started back in 1895 when mechanic and avid cyclist Vaclav Laurin, and bookseller Vaclav Klement started designing and manufacturing bicycles. Under the name Laurin and Klement, the bicycles sold well so they decided to up the ante and add engines to their bicycles.
In 1899, they were able to produce nearly 4,000 motorcycles of various types. Since they were already familiar with engines, the two decided to try and make their first-ever automobile. The result was the Voiturette A which became a huge seller for the two in the early 1900s.
But when World War I broke out, they shifted from making civilian automobiles to building machines for the war effort. However, they quickly realized they needed an industrial partner that can make various vehicles like trucks and buses, as well as airplane engines and agricultural machinery after the war was over. This was all made possible after the two partnered up with engineering firm 'Skoda' in 1925.
Since then, the signature “winged arrow” logo has been a staple on all Skoda vehicles. The first-ever vehicle to be produced under the joint partnership was the Laurin & Klement/Skoda 110. The vehicle was available with various modifications which include soft-top or hardtop versions, as well as a removable rear section which enabled the passenger car to be converted into a practical two-seater, flatbed truck.
By the 1930s, however, they had to wrestle with a market greatly affected by The Great Depression. Luckily, they were able to come up with the Skoda Popular. Serving as one of their most important vehicles, the Popular only weighed at a measly 650 kg and can reach speeds of up to 80 km/h. It was also affordable and was deemed as the 'people's car'. So much so, that other customers decided to modify their Popular into a range of utility vehicles like ambulances and delivery vans.
In the mid-1940s, Skoda became a national enterprise and saw the brand launch two new vehicles. These were the Tudor, a more modernized version of the older Popular that is available either as a sedan or wagon, and the 1200 family car which appeared to have been inspired by American car design.
By 1955, Skoda released the 440, which eventually became the Octavia by 1959. It was then followed by the 1000MB which was released in 1964. It replaced the Octavia and became one of the brand's most popular vehicles on sale at the time. By 1965, more than 1,000 examples were coming out of the factory, making it the first Czech vehicle to be mass-produced. Other notable cars that Skoda made from the 1970s to the 1980s include the Favorit hatchback, the 110 R, and the Felicia Roadster.
Despite making headway, the political landscape of Eastern Europe affected Skoda once more. In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell and the communist government dissolved in then Czechoslovakia. Then came the free market economy which opened more opportunities for Skoda. In December 1990, they decided on Volkswagen which resulted in a joint venture. Since then, Skoda became the fourth brand under the VAG, alongside Volkswagen, Audi, and SEAT.
Under three decades with VAG, Skoda continued to grow and flourish. From models such as the Superb, Octavia, and Fabia, they have built a loyal customer base. They then went on to make their first line of SUVs that consisted of the Kodiaq, Karoq, and Kamiq. The year 2020, however, will make Skoda's venture into building an all-electric SUV, the Enyaq. By 2022, Skoda plans to have more than ten partially or fully electric vehicles available for the market.
With over a century of experience building, designing, and manufacturing vehicles, Skoda wants to continue moving forward and keep pushing towards the future of the automobile. If only Vaclav Laurin and Vaclav Klement can see where their brand is now.