The launch of Skoda’s new Superb is, according to the firm’s head of fleet, “the dawn of a new era of emotive design” for the Volkswagen-owned brand.

“It’s important for us, it will open more doors than we’ve seen before, it’s a very compelling package,” fleet boss Patrick McGillycuddy (pictured) told BusinessCar. “The foundation we have built on is quality, practicality and value; this is the dawn of a new era of emotive design.”

McGillycuddy said a strong competitor in the upper medium sector is vital for success across the fleet arena, despite the category’s shrinking market share as more people downsize or move to crossovers, people carriers and off-roaders.

“Superb will challenge the traditional company car market – compete with the Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Insignia – and a lot of decisions are made around that segment,” he continued. “The new Superb is important for us because it opens more doors than we’ve seen before, the brand evolution continues to bring more positive recognition year-on-year and we have customers now that in the past wouldn’t even have given us an appointment.”

Skoda’s fleet team is now twice the size it was two years ago, having grown from nine to 18 people. “Two years ago the brand made a big decision – we were a retail-orientated brand and we needed to grow in fleet,” explained McGillycuddy. “The increase in number is in account managers so we can talk to more customers and prospects more often.”

The result, he claimed, is a three-fold increase in customer base, while so-called true fleet sales to end user fleet drivers were up 40% last year, 70% of which were the Octavia model, a car Skoda claimed is number one in its market for true fleet registrations.

That compares with overall fleet growth, including rental, courtesy cars and internal fleets, of 30%. “We were keen to minimise short cycle for RV performance, and for our used car network, all the things you’d expect us to be doing,” he said.

The number of demonstrator vehicles Skoda operates is being increased to deal with interest in the latest products. From September it will rise from 220 to 300 to coincide with the launch of new Superb, and McGillycuddy is aiming to maintain that level going forward.

As a sign of the growing “maturity of the franchise”, claimed Skoda’s fleet supremo, the business-orientated SE Business trim will be part of the range from launch, having been introduced on the Octavia, Yeti and Superb models last year. “We’ve understood the segment and market behaviour and made sure we bring the best proposition from the word go,” he said, also revealing the SE Business trim level ended up accounting for 20% of Skoda fleet registrations last year, and continues to grow.

On the new Superb, SE Business trim adds satnav, dual-zone climate control, front and rear parking sensors, electric memory driver’s seat and bespoke alloys, among other kit. The trim costs the same as the SE it’s based on, but is aimed at fleets and not available on the PCP arrangement most retail buyers would opt for.

The SME-focussed dealer-based business centre programme, is starting to help fuel growth, according to McGillycuddy. Redesigned two years ago, over the course of six months, Skoda took time to assess the dealer partners involved and ensure they had the right quality of people.

“We have 30 local business centres and they grew 50% in volume terms last year, and we’re looking at 100%-plus growth this year,” he said. “The process is designed over a three or four-year period to allow investment in resource; it takes time to bring customers on that journey because local business customers are in a cycle of their own.

“We’re seeing results particularly around Octavia, the Scout has taken well into the local business market and the local business dealers are increasingly excited about what Superb can do for them.”

The Czech brand’s ambitions lie in some significant growth over the coming years. “Our fleet market share stands at just over 3% at the moment so we’ve got room to grow,” said McGillycuddy. “We’re ambitious and have emphasis on a huge push into the top 10 and beyond.

“We’ve got room to grow as a business, a team and a retail network of local business centres.”

Simply clever

Skoda’s ‘Simply Clever’ strapline is never truer than in the new Superb (tested on page 23), with the firm claiming more than 20 new or existing innovations (depending on trim level) including:
?  Umbrellas stored in both front doors
?  Removable torch doubling up as the boot light, that works for up to 48 hours and is magnetic, so can stick to the car for help changing a wheel in the dark
?  Ice scraper fitted in the petrol cap
?  Velcro panels that can divide the boot to stop items sliding around
?  Grippy base to the cupholder that means bottle lids can be unscrewed one-handed
?  No less than four bag hooks in the boot
?  Virtual pedal – a sweep of a foot under the bumper opens the boot (in combination with keyless entry and powered boot systems)
?  Tablet holder built into the rear seat centre armrest
?  Ability to operate infotainment systems from the rear seats