The company’s extraordinary
Interview with Bernhard Maier, Chairman of the Board of Škoda Auto
Last year, ŠKODA AUTO entered the electromobility era when it introduced its first two e-models. However, it is still manufacturing cars with combustion engines. How long will it stick to this approach?
I suppose both technologies will be with us for quite a while. We can assemble both combustion engines and electric drives on one line, which enables us to respond flexibly to customer demands.
What news can customers look forward to in the course of this year?
We have several irons in the fire. It all starts when we launch the OCTAVIA’s latest generation. We will also introduce the first purely electric MEB platform model. The car looks wonderful, and it’s simply great to drive. It will become the pride of a new era. In addition, the INDIA 2.0 project will be fully launched as well: At the Delhi Motor Show in February, we will unveil our future model portfolio. The first line product will be introduced in early 2021.
I’m looking forward with optimism. If there’s a team that can meet all the challenges, it’s us.
You have already announced that 2020 will be a difficult year. Which challenges are you preparing for?
The high volatility of the world economy will continue to affect our businesses this year. There will be new challenges, like the much stricter CO2 emission regulations that came into force on 1 January. We also know that the newly elected European Commission representatives are considering an even stricter reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Internally, we have to launch the model on the MEB platform, where we will produce the OCTAVIA as well.
ŠKODA AUTO will contribute a total of EUR 30 million to Mladá Boleslav’s regional development. Why should large companies invest in the locations where they operate?
As the largest company in the Czech Republic, we have an extraordinary responsibility that extends far beyond the factory gates. I think it’s important for the areas around our plants to develop just as positively as our company does. We need attractive, safe and cosmopolitan cities that move with the times. That is why I view the ŠKODA AUTO endowment fund with its EUR 30 million contribution and the cooperation with the Czech government as important initiatives. That is what I think a successful public-private partnership should look like.
Together with local startups, ŠKODA AUTO DigiLab is developing various digital services. Are we moving in the right direction for digital transformation?
Digital transformation depends on its performance speed. And in this regard, we are doing well. Services such as Citymove and BeRider have moved an entire range of mobility-on-demand solutions onto the road and into our customers’ facilities. The ŠKODA DigiLab Innovation Centres in Prague, Tel Aviv and Beijing are working with dozens of companies to develop new mobility services. Some of the innovations are coming soon. We are also opening our fourth DigiLab in India, and a new software centre in Pune will cooperate with ŠKODA IT. This brings us closer to the goal we defined in our 2025 Strategy: ŠKODA Simply Clever – a company offering the best mobility solutions. But we still have a long way to go. The new tasks are associated with the iV electromobility ecosystem. Here we are preparing a solution for wallboxes and charging cards to be simply clever again.
Last autumn, rumours were swirling about ŠKODA’s new position within the VW Group. You put out a vehement denial in a letter to employees. How does the situation look now?
Nothing has changed. At ŠKODA AUTO, we adhere to a clear brand and product strategy. We are very successful worldwide, and we are on the same page as our Group colleagues. Our products are renowned for their extraordinary spaciousness, maximum functionality, progressive design, a whole range of simply clever ideas and a convincing price/performance ratio. In this way we embody the motto ŠKODA Smart Understatement. It is precisely this set of values that our customers around the world value and expect from every product.
At informal breakfasts and other events, you are staying in touch with employees. What is the result?
Right now, given the transformation process, I see this direct link as something very important. In these open discussions, I appreciate it that we are acting as equals and both sides are broadening their horizons. Our colleagues can catch a glimpse of my work, and I get interesting suggestions, new ideas and direct feedback from them. And that’s why I will continue these breakfasts this year!
This year, our company is celebrating 125 years of operation. What does this mean for us?
It is absolutely extraordinary. We are among the five oldest car brands that are still producing. Of course, we will celebrate this together with all ŠKODA employees. I’m looking forward to it! This anniversary also reminds us of our responsibility to safely navigate ŠKODA towards a prosperous future. That is what we want to work hard for in the new year.
This autumn, you will be celebrating a small anniversary yourself. How do you view your first five years with the carmaker?
It is fascinating work, and the challenges are linked to a lot of joy. I feel very good here in the Czech Republic at ŠKODA AUTO. There is great solidarity within the ŠKODA family, and I am very impressed by what we have accomplished so far. We have introduced electromobility into the Czech heart of ŠKODA. Within a very short amount of time, we have developed our SUV models to become the backbone of the product portfolio. We have launched the largest product offensive in our brand’s history. The INDIA 2.0 and Russia projects have strengthened our position within the VW Group for the long term. To me, it is particularly important that we have significantly increased the number of employees, along with job security. But we haven’t won yet! We will continue to vigorously pursue our 2025 Strategy, and we are already considering a 2030 Strategy. red