Skoda likes to play the Irish card. Its Celtic roots may be as tenuous as a 1980s Irish soccer international, but it's fair to say that many here have taken this German-owned Czech brand to their hearts. Its rise up the ranks of Irish car sales in the last decade is overshadowed only by the stellar success of Hyundai.
So it was fitting that earlier this year Skoda's engineers opted to put the finishing touches to its new flagship all-electric car on the back roads of Ireland. Laois to be exact. And we were invited along for a drive.
Admittedly, they didn't get the warmest of welcomes. Despite assurances from Irish colleagues that Ireland would be the ideal backdrop to the car's final prototype test drives – honestly, the worst you'll get is a drop of rain – the first day began amid a deluge of snow, with the scenic Slieve Blooms impassable. Even in a fleet of all-wheel drive new SUVs. Well, perhaps the new cars were capable of crossing the mountains, but the engineers were not eager to try, given that these early prototypes are each worth more than an Italian supercar.
At Skoda's camp at Castle Durrow, the camouflaged cars set against a snow-covered country house were picturesque, but the Skoda executives looked positively peeved. Understandably so, for asked how much the week-long Irish test was costing the company, one Czech executive said it "is not much", "a few hundred thousand euros, less than half a million for sure".
A conveyor belt of 70 international journalists were pencilled in to hear the pitch about the new electric car and tales of Skoda’s Irish success. Now it looked like they might get snowed in.
As local hacks, we were not to be deterred and with winter tyres hastily fitted, we headed off in convoy, our camouflaged cars attracting quizzical looks at the crossroads at Ballacolla. The fleet of lime green camouflaged cars repeatedly criss-crossing the village was certain to be on the agenda over pints in Hayes pub that Monday night.
When it comes to their prototypes, car companies are akin to Z-list celebrities on vacation. They make a big palaver about protecting their privacy, then invite the media along for a sneak peek, feigning attempts at being inconspicuous while touring around with an entourage and in an outfit more suited to a Rio Mardi Gras. But we deign to play along, even if we know the playbook.
So to the car itself. The Enyaq – yes, there’s an Irish angle to the name as well – is Skoda’s all-new fully electric car. A crossover SUV, it fits snugly in between its current crop of crossovers, the Karoq and Kodiaq, although its low roofline means it looks less rugged than many other crossovers on the market at present.
The ambition for Enyaq was clear. Buyers love SUVs. Buyers want usable real-life range of 400km or more. Buyers want a price similar to what they pay for petrol and diesel models today. Deliver on these three and Skoda’s job is done.
As an SUV crossover, the Enyaq does the job. There’s ample legroom front and rear, and while it lacks a third row of seats, the 585-litre boot is on a par with today’s Octavia, for example. While the prototypes are only 70 per cent the final product, it’s evident that the engineers have gone a long way to sprucing up what will be the brand’s new flagship model.
As we head off into the snowy uplands of Co Laois, Bjorn Kroll, who is steering Skoda's move to emobility, joins us in the passenger seat and begins the pitch.
“Our target from the start was effective real-life driving range. All the studies show this is the number-one customer demand,” he explains.
"Then value for money. This has been very tough criteria for us, because roughly 40 per cent of the production cost for an electric car like this is coming from the battery cost. Therefore we had to heavily work on cutting down its cost. Since we are part of VW Group, that has helped us a lot. The more cars we can do the more we can work on economies of scale."
The Enyaq is built on the same MEB platform – the foundations of the car – as the new Volkswagen ID.3 all-electric hatchback. That greatly helped cut down the development time and costs as well.
According to Kroll: “Fun to drive is a necessary criteria for us. The strange thing is that for many companies at the start of the electric car revolution, no one apart from Tesla really bothered with this criteria. Now it is changing and with our car, you will see that comes to the fore. And we will have a sporty vRS version as well.”
For our relatively short hour-long stint behind the wheel, slippy roads and convoy rules kept us from putting the fun criteria to any serious test, but it’s certainly a smooth and easy drive. While it doesn’t have the ludicrous acceleration of some all-electric cars, the throttle is impressively responsive for a regular family crossover. That makes overtaking a breeze, although the only time we really got to test that was passing out a tractor doing about 12km/h.
When it arrives on the Irish market early next year, the Enyaq will come with three sizes of battery. The entry-level rear-wheel drive model will have a 55kWh battery pack, powering a 150kW rear electric motor and offering a maximum range of up to 340km. Next up is a version with a 62 kWh battery with a range of 500km in the WLTP cycle. Finally there is the 82-kWh battery with a range of 460km but adding a second 75kW electric motor to the front axle, thereby giving you all-wheel drive capabilities. A sporty RS version of this version will be offered as well, able to get from 0 to 100 km/h in 6.2 seconds and with a top speed of 180 km/h.
In terms of competitors, the list is very varied and slightly bizarre. Would you really reckon the Enyaq as a rival to a Tesla Model 3? Or a little Renault Zoe? According to Kroll: "The closest rival to the Enyaq is our own Kodiaq. And it's the reference point when it comes to prices. We want to eliminate the idea that electric cars are too expensive compared to traditional variants. We want to sell it at a similar price to Kodiaq, so customers can choose between them, not because of price."
Skoda's Irish success to date can be attributed to how it took the playbook first developed by Toyota in Ireland – with its Irish language ads – and updated it for the current generation. As with Toyota's original message, the claims of reliable, affordable, practical motoring chimed with consumers.
The question for it – and others in the mainstream – is how you can continue to play up these traits in the midst of a monumental motoring revolution. Certainly the likes of the Enyaq can deliver practicality and electric cars should be more reliable, but can it deliver on affordability?
If, as strongly hinted, the Enyaq comes in just slightly above the Kodiaq, that means prices will be in the region of €50,000 after grants. That’s probably okay for an electric car of this size, but big-budget money for your average Skoda buyer.
The electric revolution in the motor industry isn't just for the buyer, however. Dealers are also part of the change. A pilot scheme under way in Czech Republic is hoping to roll out a system of reusing older batteries as energy-storage devices for dealerships. According to one Skoda official, while they have yet to nail down the prices, these used batteries could be worth 50-60 per cent of their original cost when it comes to reuse, which in turn means a major benefit to the used car or scrappage value.
As Kroll explains: "In the next 30 years, the way we travel, heat our homes and power our factories will have to change. And it means our industry has to completely change. "By 2025 Norway is banning combustion engines from sale, including hybrids. Ireland's ban comes in by 2030, along with the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark. Just recently the UK pulled forward their target date to ban non fully-electric new car sales to 2035. That's one of the first big countries in Europe with a target to ban any kind of combustion engine. We strongly believe that the next 10 years will see a dramatic change in the powertrain portfolio of car companies. For us that means we have to completely change our powertrain portfolio over the next 10 years."