Can the Rapid do for Skoda, what Fabia and Yeti could’nt?
Exactly a decade ago in November 2001, Skoda, the only company that makes cars in Czech republic became the first European carmaker to enter India. Ten years hence, the company launched its entry level sedan Rapid that in a way replaces the now discontinued Octavia, the model that launched the brand in India.
A lot has changed in these 10 years and few of them have been to the advantage of the Czech firm. When the Octavia was launched, it was a breath of fresh air for a market that was starving for choices. Today its the exact opposite. Skoda is no longer an exotic brand and it merits and follies are all known. The Rapid comes in a segment that has seen the maximum launches in the last 18 months, right from the Volkswagen Vento, the Fluidic Verna to the Nissan Sunny.
The bigger question however is whether Rapid can do what the Fabia and Yeti could not….vault Skoda to the league of real fighters in India? We are tempted to say yes, but there are a few hurdles that seem insurmountable.
For all the rooftop shouting of India this being the first market that gets the Rapid, there is little by way of novelty in the car. Based on the Vento platform, it feels and even looks like the VW car. Leave aside the tradenark Skoda grille and headlamps, and what you get is a slightly lower priced Vento.
While that itself is not a very bad thing and increasingly carmakers worldwide are adopting this strategy, the lack of novelty does irk a little bit.
At Rs 6.75 lakh ex showroom Delhi for the base petrol variant and Rs 7.95 lakk for the base diesel variant, I felt that the car is priced on the higher side by atleast Rs 50,000. When we first had a look of the car as a concept in September at Frankfurt, we held the opinion that this car should be available for under Rs 7 lakh on road.
With a price like this, Skoda has again repeated the mistake it committed with the Fabia and Yeti. There are not too many petrol car buyers in this segment anymore but whatever market there is, would drift towards the Nissan Sunny. The latter is Rs 1 lakh cheaper and though it is not as premium as a Skoda, it has more space and provides a good bang for the buck.
In the diesel space, the undisputed leader right now is the hyundai Verna. The Korean car bamboozled everybody by the endless list of features. The Rapid has some glaring loopholes here and does not have parking sensors or steeing mounted controls even on top end variants.
Skoda was a much more potent competitor in India so long as parent firm Volkswagen was not present. Being the only European carmaker and the face of a world’s thirs largest automotive group helped the company maintain its headstart by way of products.
But with VW around, that edge is missing. As the R&D and product development of the firms are alligned, it is a no brainer that VW will get a first shot at all exciting products in India. And as is evident with the Rapid, Skoda would also not have the freedom to undertake remedial measures in the event of a failure from Vento. A much better strategy would have been for VW group to sit together and decide to thwart Verna, that came in after the Vento, with the Rapid.
The car could have been given more features and a more aggressive price to anable VW regain the upperhand against Hyundai. Unfortunately, strategy is something that VW does not believe in, in India.
As Skoda’s own sales expectations from the Rapid (2,000 a month) suggests, they themselves know they cannot compete with the Verna for now. They can only hope it fares better than their previous two duds.