“Like castaways in a hairdryer”. ŠKODA goes to India

“Like castaways in a hairdryer”. ŠKODA goes to India

Pioneering early days, learning from experience, and the position of Volkswagen Group leader. That is the trajectory ŠKODA has followed in India. The approaching presentation of an SUV developed especially for the Indian market is the culmination of 20 years’ work. Take a look back at how the story began.

9. 2. 2021 Škoda World

The carmaker ŠKODA set out to conquer the Indian market in 2001, when it started to export OCTAVIA cars to India for “SKD0 assembly”, which meant some small-scale assembly work on what was essentially a finished product. But the Indian customs regulations soon necessitated a change of strategy towards manufacture in India making increasing use of local resources.

The first ŠKODA production line in Aurangabad, at a time when the industrial zone was still being developed (source: M. Jancák)

In 2002 this task was taken in hand by Marek Jancák, who is currently Head of Car Production for the whole of ŠKODA. He remembers that at first he felt like a pioneer in India. “While it’s nothing unusual today for managers to end up in Russia, China or India, at the time it was something much more exotic. What’s more, we were the first brand from Volkswagen Group with a presence in India, so we felt like castaways. At the time, no other European brands were producing in India on the scale we were,” Jancák points out. 

Marek-Jancak-circleMarek Jancák
Head of Car Production at ŠKODA

And he remembers how one of his first trips made it clear how tough the local market would be. “We landed in Delhi during a heat wave so extreme that it was too much even for the locals. The heat was made worse by strong winds, so you felt like you were in a hairdryer,” he says, drawing attention to the conditions that cars had to be able to withstand as well as people. 

KUSHAQ is just the start

It won’t be long now till the dawn of a new era in India for ŠKODA is ushered in by the KUSHAQ SUV. This model, which was developed from the VISION IN study and will be unveiled in March, is the Volkswagen Group’s first model developed especially for the Indian market, with most of the development work done in India as well. Further models of both the ŠKODA and Volkswagen brands will be developed using the MQB A0 IN platform that is the basis of the KUSHAQ SUV. They will be made in the facilities at Aurangabad and Pune, with ŠKODA playing the lead role in the entire process.

The KUSHAQ, still disguised, has already been presented to the Indian press.

Improvisation among the pillars

The preparations for full production in India took place on two fronts. On the one hand, the Czech carmaker launched a project to prepare its present-day plant in Aurangabad, which was a recently founded industrial area at the time. At the same time, however, the company needed to press on with assembly to ensure there weren’t gaps in deliveries to the Indian market before the factory was ready to open. “We rented premises where we could quickly get full assembly up and running,” Jancák recalls.

Production in the building originally designed for transformer assembly. (source: M. Jancák)

But the building had been originally intended for transformer manufacture and it was structurally dependent on lots of load-bearing pillars inside, so Jancák and his team had to be pretty creative when laying out the plant. “We succeeded through an excellent combination of renowned Czech ingenuity and superb Indian flexibility,” says Jancák, adding that his job was to make sure that all the Czech carmaker’s demanding requirements for processes and procedures were complied with. But the locals played an indispensable role in fitting out the plant. We got hold of everything we needed in record time, and the workforce we recruited was also excellent.”

Another reason the first steps in India were difficult was that the planned capacity of around 10,000 cars a year was a fraction of the Czech carmaker’s overall capacities, so it was sometimes not easy for the manager to make his voice heard at the Czech headquarters. Especially when this kind of long-distance communication was nowhere near as easy twenty years ago as it is today.

The Indian plant has been able to comply with the Czech carmaker’s demanding processes and procedures right from the start. (source: M. Jancák)

Outstanding logistics

Once production and deliveries from Mladá Boleslav and from local subcontractors were secured, the Aurangabad plant could start to receive containers with automobile parts sets. It was important to ensure that the delivery of containers from Czechia was absolutely reliable. “The containers’ journey takes six weeks, plus you need to add some time for planning and packing. Even the smallest mistake can have far-reaching consequences: either you wait at least six weeks for a missing part or you have to pay a high price for air shipping," says Jancák, explaining why careful planning is a must.

The logistics of parts and components shipping has always been the Indian plant’s pride and glory. (source: M. Jancák)

But the logistics department coped brilliantly, he says. “We never had to pause production. We are still very proud of our logistics to this day. In the end the entire automotive industry has learnt from us, things like efficient packing of components into shipping containers,” says Jancák, referring to the ŠKODA logistics experts’ ability to cram four car bodies plus designated production parts into one elongated container.

Once ŠKODA had established itself in India, it started to offer other models. The OCTAVIA was joined by the FABIA and RAPID models, but SUPERB and KODIAQ models are also imported into India now. Cars for the local market have to satisfy the specific demands of Indian customers, including seemingly trivial requirements like a louder horn, but also more powerful car batteries, modified headlights or a different clutch construction, hardier tyres and engines adapted to the local fuel quality. 

Originally, only the final stage of ŠKODA car components assembly was done in India. (source: M. Jancák)

A new chapter: INDIA 2.0

Over time it became increasingly clear that a model developed specifically for the Indian market would be the ideal solution. So in July 2018 ŠKODA was given another difficult assignment: taking responsibility for Volkswagen Group’s INDIA 2.0 project. “ŠKODA took control of all the group’s activities in India and started working towards the goal of manufacturing cars for the Indian market designed to meet the local customers’ requirements and making maximum use of local supplies,” explains Luboš Hradecký, who’s in charge of launching production of new models in India.

3-2Luboš Hradecký
Head of ŠKODA Production Abroad

In 2019 ŠKODA opened a development centre in Pune, followed in 2020 by the founding of ŠKODA DESIGN India, a design studio headed by Caroline Liehr. “We have local suppliers for practically all the materials we have developed and want to use in the car,” says Liehr, making it clear that helping to localise production is design studio’s top priority. Local contractors can meet our high quality standards, she says. “We want to be as efficient as possible, so being close by is a huge advantage. In this way we can work more closely with suppliers to find clever solutions,” she adds.

“Our presence in India should bring tangible benefits for local customers, giving them a product tailor-made for their requirements,” says Liehr, pointing out one of the local branch’s key objectives.

Caroline LiehrovaCaroline Liehr

“ŠKODA is already seen in India as a strong European brand with high-quality design. Thanks to us, our customers will be getting a slightly more Indian version of the ŠKODA cars they already love,” Caroline says. ŠKODA and Volkswagen Group expect this strategy to deliver significant growth on the Indian market. As the second most populous country in the world, India has a car market that has yet to reach its full potential, which should rival that of the Chinese car market. As a result, India is expected to become one of the most important markets in the world for ŠKODA.

Early adventures in India 

Although ŠKODA’s systematic activity on the Indian market dates from 2001, it would be wrong to think that the Czech brand’s cars couldn’t be seen on the subcontinent’s roads before then. Back in 1934 four ŠKODA POPULAR cabriolets made their way from Prague to Calcutta.

The four ŠKODA POPULARs were fitted with a sun shade to protect the crew on the journey to Calcutta. The gap between the roof and the body allowed fresh air into the car.

Seven young explorers led by lawyer and member of the Czechoslovak national hockey team Zbislav Peters made their way to India via the Balkans, Turkey, what is now Syria and Iraq, with one of the cars taking a detour via Afghanistan. From Calcutta the POPULAR cars continued to Bombay. From there they boarded a ship bound for Trieste and the home leg of their triumphant return to Prague. They covered almost 15,000 kilometres, often in extremely tough terrain and weather conditions. Czech explorers Břetislav Jan Procházka and Jindřich Kubias also made a stop in India in summer 1936 while on their fascinating round-the-world trip in a ŠKODA RAPID. With little time before their scheduled departure for Japan by boat, the Quetta – Delhi – Bombay stretch of their travels was more like a race: the quick and reliable RAPID completed the journey in just three days. In the second half of the 1930s, around 90 ŠKODA cars were exported a year to what was then British India, partly thanks to the promotional impact of those expeditions. In 1938 the country was in seventh place out of the Czech carmaker’s 39 export markets.