Winged Arrow: The Story of Škoda Auto

Standing on the street corner, you see a car pass next to you on the road. With a glance, you see a winged arrow logo - a clear sign of a car manufactured by Škoda, an automotive company based in Czechia, which sells cars across the globe.

Prague, Czech Republic. Detail of vintage Skoda car radiator and mascot
Detail of a vintage Skoda car radiator and mascot. Photo: PjrTransport / Alamy Stock Photo / Be&W

The biggest surprises are usually left to be the last thing the reader discovers. In our case today, we have to start with this big surprise. Škoda cars were not made initially by Škoda. Let us tell you this incredible story of the Czech industrial spirit.

The humble beginnings of Škoda history

The ones who started with cars were two friends, Václav Laurin and Václav Klement. Cars were not the original product that Laurin and Klement’s company produced. They started with something much simpler with fewer wheels: bikes. As the years passed, they switched from bikes to motorcycles… and eventually to cars. And boy, they were successful.

However, as always in life, problems eventually found them. Despite putting up a strong fight, Laurin and Klement ultimately relented, selling their car-making company to a company based in Mladá Boleslav, Czechia: Škoda Works. Up to that point, Škoda Works had mainly been a major arms manufacturing behemoth from the West Bohemian city of Pilsen.

A successful merger and the war years

After Škoda bought the Laurin and Klement company as a move to expand its non-arms manufacturing base, business boomed. Škoda manufactured not only civilian cars but also canons, weapons, and even tanks for the Czechoslovak army. During World War II, Škoda manufactured high volumes of military equipment.

Unfortunately, not for the Czechoslovak army. The factories were turned into full-time military plants to serve the German war effort. Military vehicles, planes, and other weapon components were manufactured there for the German Wehrmacht. This involuntary war effort was why Škoda factories were bombed by the allies multiple times between 1940 and 1945.

The communist era and early post-communism years of freedom

After the war in 1948, the car division of Škoda became an essential part of the communist nationalized planned economy. Through this action, Škoda Auto officially separated from the parent company, Škoda Works. The company maintained its good reputation throughout this period. Even though Škoda was a prime manufacturer of automobiles in the Eastern Bloc, it completely lost contact with technological developments in non-communist countries.

Until late 1990, Škoda was still manufacturing outdated cars that could not compete with foreign competitors. Then the fall of communism brought significant changes to Czechoslovakia. One part of the rebirth of the once again free nation was the swift privatization of all industries. After a long and tiresome tender, two main competitors made it to the “last round”: France’s Renault and Germany’s Volkswagen.

The winged arrow under the wings of Volkswagen

As the title hints, Germany’s Volkswagen won the privatization bid for Škoda Auto. Since then, tight cooperation has brought forth many successful models of family and terrain cars.

new skoda enyaq
Skoda’s latest electric SUV model, the ENYAQ iV. Photo: courtesy of Skoda

Oh, and for the winged logo itself? The famous “winged arrow” logo was first used in 1926. However, its origin is a mystery. The official version talks about the head of a Native American (Indian) wearing a five-feathered headdress. This Indian was replaced by an arrow, an item also connected with the culture of North American Indians.

Marek Koten

A Ph.D. student in economics, specializing in nuclear energy from the Czech Republic, he also serves as a political consultant to the Czech government and the U.S. Republican Party.

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