VIENNA – Skoda Auto a.s., Volkswagen AG’s Czech unit, plans to double its dealer network in Russia by the end of next year.

“We have about 50 dealers and we are aiming for 100 by the end of 2009,” says Fred Kappler, Skoda’s member of the board responsible for sales.

“We almost doubled our sales (in Russia) in each of the last two years,” he says. “We won’t manage to double (sales) this year but we’ll (see) a strong increase.”

At minimum, the auto maker will sell 40,000 units this year in Russia, Kappler says.

Year-to-date, Skoda has sold 19,236 cars in Russia, up 79% from like-2007.

Skoda is ranked No.13 among foreign brands in the country. In addition to fully built-up vehicles imported from Czech Republic, the OOO Volkswagen Rus plant in Kaluga assembles the Skoda Octavia, previous-generation Octavia Tour and Fabia from semi-knocked-down kits.

Pilot production of complete-knocked-down Octavias is slated to begin at the facility at the end of the year.

“Russia will be our second-most important European market after Germany,” Kappler says. “But we now have to broaden our coverage. Russia is a huge country.”

The Skoda dealer network needs to be developed in the east and south of the country, as well as in medium-sized cities, he says.

“I mean cities with 300,000, 400,000 or 500,000 inhabitants,” Kappler says. “I don’t mean medium-sized cities as we know them in Czech Republic. I’m not even beginning to think in these terms (in Russia).”