Skoda may be largest car company you’ve never heard of

Czech-based automaker celebrating anniversaries in 2020

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Skoda
Skoda's 1935 streamlined 935 Dynamic | Skoa Auto photos

Skoda may not be a familiar automotive brand to drivers in the United States, but the company based in what is now the Czech Republic and now part of the Volkswagen Group dates to 1895 and celebrates not only its 125th anniversary in 2020 but 115 years as an automaker.

The automaker traces its roots to 1895 when Václav Laurin, a mechanic, and Václav Klement, who sold books, started repairing and building bicycles in Mlada Boeslav, Bohemia, which was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. 

Four years later, they produced their first motorcycle and in 1905, their first automobile, the Voiturette A. Their lineup of vehicles expanded. But in the aftermath of World War I, the company found itself in the new nation of Czechoslovakia, and with new restrictions on the export of its vehicles.

1906 L&K Voiturette A
Founders Vaclav Klement (left) and Vaclav Laurin

In 1924, a fire ruined the company’s production facilities and the following year, Laurin & Klement merged with Skoda, a large mechanical engineering company that also produced weapons and heavy equipment.

Skoda also had a license to produce Hispano-Suiza cars in addition to those it acquired from Laurin & Klement. In 1935, Skoda launched its 935 Dynamic model with a streamlined body.

Germany ruled Czechoslovakia during World War II, and afterwar the war, the country and its automaker found themselves behind the Iron Curtain and under Communist control. Nonetheless, Skoda entered the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1950. In November and December 1989, the Czech people rebelled against one-party control and in the summer of 1990, the country held its first free elections, though it would divide three years later into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

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1935 Skoda Superb 640 and 1939 Superb 3000
First post-war design: 1948 Superb (left) and pre-war 1939 example
Skoda model lineup from 1970

In 1991, Skoda Auto was acquired by Volkswagen. Skodas are sold in more than 100 markets around the world, with customers buying nearly 1.25 million of its vehicles each year. In addition to Mlada Boleslav, the company has two other production facilities in the Czech Republic and others in China, Russia, Slovakia Germany, Algeria, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and India.

“Skoda Auto is one of the world’s five oldest automobile manufacturers still active today,” Bernard Maier, the company’s chief executive, is quoted in the company’s anniversary announcement. 

“The courage and ingenuity of the two founders, Václav Laurin and Václav Klement, are the cornerstone of this unique success story and at the same time an obligation and incentive to lead the company toward a prosperous future. 

202 Skoda Superb Sportline

“This is precisely what we are doing through our Strategy 2025, transforming Skoda Auto from a car manufacturer into a ‘Simply Clever Company for the best mobility solutions’.”

With that future in mind, Skoda Auto plans to launch 30 new vehicles by the end of 2022, with a dozen of them partially or fully electric-powered.

Vision iV concept unveiled at 2019 Shanghai auto show will be first Skoda built on new Volkswagen electric platform
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A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

2 COMMENTS

  1. In 1963 I traded a boat and Mercury Outboard Motor for a ’59 Skoda 2 door sedan that had been sold new in Alameda Ca . Underneath is was a Simca, ran so – so but got good gas milage as I needed an cheep car that was light on gasoline because I commuted from San Rafael CA to Treasure Island Naval School Command . I had paid $150.00 for the boat and a year after I bought the Skoda I sold it to another Sailor for $200.00

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