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SsangYong set for new-model blitz

SUT concept: Set to be unveiled at Geneva, it will replace the current Actyon Sports ute.

New ute and mid-sized SUV set to join Korando as SsangYong gets back on its feet

15 Feb 2011

THE near-dormant SsangYong brand is set for a major revival in Australia, with at least two more new models to join the all-new Korando compact SUV on sale through an expanded dealer network by 2013.

A new ute and medium-sized SUV are locked in, while a small sedan and hatchback and a LandCruiser-sized four-wheel drive are also on the cards if the new owner of the South Korean company, India’s Mahindra and Mahindra, ticks the boxes for designs that are already waiting on the shelf in Seoul.

The transition of SsangYong from court-controlled receivership to Mahindra ownership is scheduled for next month, just as SsangYong unveils the next chapter in its product-led recovery, the 2012 SUT (Sports Utility Truck) concept ute, at the Geneva motor show.

The re-skinned ute – a replacement for the brand’s top-selling model, the Actyon Sports ute, in Australia in 2010 – is expected to get the same European-developed Euro 5-compliant 129kW 2.0-litre diesel engine as the just-launched 2011 Korando, although tuned to achieve maximum torque lower in the rev range.

With a new interior and entirely fresh sheetmetal over its rugged ladder chassis, the redesigned Actyon Sports is due to roll off the car carriers from South Korea and into Australian showrooms in the first quarter of 2012.

About a year after that, SsangYong has committed to a new medium-sized SUV – codenamed D200 – to replace both the compact Kyron and mid-sized Rexton SUVs in a move designed to rationalise the confused range while elevating sales from current low levels.

Beyond that, all further new models will depend on the direction dictated by Mahindra, which has already stated that it wishes to keep the Mahindra and SsangYong brands separate.

This year, importer Sime Darby SsangYong is looking for a Korando-led recovery to expand SsangYong sales in Australia by up to 150 per cent, from 2010’s 1119 to about 2600-2800 units.

28 center image From top: Ssangyong Korando, current Actyon Sports, Kyron, Rexton and Sime Darby Motor Group Australia managing director Rob Dommerson.

This would take the brand back to the volumes it was achieving in 2005, when the previous Korando and the Musso SUV were still in production and before the Korean company staggered and fell.

Loaded with the aforementioned new turbo-diesel engine and a five-year warranty, Korando is expected to make up about half of all SsangYong sales in 2010 – about 170 a month – although Sime Darby concedes stock will be tight initially as the global rollout of the new, car-like small SUV ramps up in South Korea, the UK and elsewhere.

Sime Darby, the Malaysian-based conglomerate that took on the Australian franchise for SsangYong in late 2008, and its 26 surviving dealers are also having for wait several weeks for the arrival of Korandos fitted with the Australian designed and engineered six-speed automatic transmission, while a petrol engine is also a year away.

A diesel-electric hybrid powertrain, as shown with the Korando-previewing C200 concept, could also emerge down the track.

Sime Darby Motor Group Australia managing director Rob Dommerson told GoAuto that the promise of new models with broad appeal had helped his company and the dealer network to keep the faith during the dark days of SsangYong’s chapter 11-style receivership after previous owner Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) walked out in response to a destructive union factory sit-in over proposed workforce cuts in 2009.

“We wouldn’t be here unless they (SsangYong’s management under receivership) hadn’t given us the inside story and let us know what was happening,” he said.

“The first thing is always product, and the reason we took on SsangYong in the first place was the integrity of the product, the quality.

“The consistency of Rexton and Stavic and so on has been outstanding, and if they keep that up, there is no reason they can’t get into the mainstream.

“There is no reason why, once we get through the baggage of the past two years – and the product is going to take us through that – that the brand couldn’t be in a very strong position.”

Mr Dommerson said SsangYong chief operating officer and vice-president of global marketing JS Choi had made a flying visit to Australia for the Korando dealer launch last week, delivering a reassuring message about the upcoming-model plans and the future under Mahindra.

He said Mr Choi had said the SsangYong brand and management would remain Korean, with Mahindra providing financial support for development of new SsangYong models.

Mr Dommerson, who described the Mahindra takeover of SsangYong as the deal of the century, said he envisaged an opportunity for Australia in right-hand-drive SsangYong models made in India at Mahindra factories.

“If the product quality is good – and it will be – it could be good for us as well,” he said.

“Stavic and Rexton will be built down there for the Indian market, probably CKD’d (built from completely knocked down kits from Korea). Whether they badge that as SsangYong or whether they badge that as Mahindra, that’s up to them.

“I think they will probably keep it as SsangYong, as that seems to be the way they are thinking – to keep them separate.”

Mr Dommerson said he had seen concepts of new passenger cars developed by SsangYong before the troubles started in Korea two years ago.

He said it would be up to Mahindra to decide if those cars and other new models – including a bigger version of the Rexton four-wheel drive – would get the go-ahead.

“We have seen some concepts, but everything was pretty much shelved over the last two years,” he said. “It really depends what Mahindra wants to do and where they see the brand going.

“But I think as a global player, if they need to be there, they will take us past SUVs (to passenger cars).

“They have the production capacity – they have 250,000 slots (in the South Korean factory) and they did only 80,000 last year.”

Sime Darby SsangYong general manager and director Jeff Barber told GoAuto that the SsangYong dealer network had declined from about 45 to about 25 outlets as a result of the SsangYong financial difficulties and the global financial crisis.

He said competitors had been only too happy to point out SsangYong’s troubled situation to potential customers, impacting sales.

He said that would all go away with the exit of SsangYong from receivership next month and the arrival this month of the all-new Korando.

Mr Barber said last year’s sales result – 1119 units, up 6.2 per cent – was disappointing but understandable, considering the SsangYong situation.

“This year, we are targeting a much larger number, somewhere in the order of 2600-2800 units,” he said. “Of course, that will depend upon the success of Korando, which we expect to contribute more than half of that volume.”

Mr Barber said his company was looking to expand the SsangYong dealer network from the current 26 sales outlets to about 35, and it was advertising to fill open points in Australia’s three biggest markets – Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane – as well as Darwin.

He said that in the past, SsangYong’s range of SUVs and utes had made the brand more popular in rural and provincial areas, but the arrival of the new Korando, with its car-like engineering and smooth new looks, would give the brand greater appeal in the cities.

Among the open points in Sydney are in the northern suburbs, perhaps around Pennant Hills, and central area, in the Blacktown/Parramatta region.

In Melbourne, a long-standing dealership was flying the flag in the northern suburbs, at Bundoora, while Sime Darby was close to signing a franchise agreement with a dealer in the outer east.

Mr Barber said that left open points in the inner eastern and western suburbs.

In Brisbane, a dealership was wanted in the southern suburbs, while in the Northern Territory an outlet was required in Darwin to supplement an existing one in Alice Springs.

Mr Barber said current SsangYong dealers had received their first allotments from the first shipment of 301 Korandos, and the second shipment would arrive next month.

Australia was the first right-hand drive market to launch Korando, on Friday, with the base model priced at $26,300, plus on-road costs, or $27,990 driveaway.

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