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.
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.
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.
“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.