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SsangYong to join brand migration

All change: SsangYong vehicles such as the Actyon Sports are expected to be distributed by Ateco Automotive, which also handles the Chinese-built Great Wall range.

Ateco Automotive set to get SsangYong import rights as Citroen shifts to Sime Darby

21 Aug 2012

ANOTHER automotive brand appears to be on the move in Australia, with South Korea’s SsangYong poised to switch distribution camps from Sime Darby to Ateco Automotive.

The switch is likely to coincide with Citroen’s shift the other way, from Ateco to Sime, in the next few months.

The two Sydney-based importers – among Australia’s largest independent car distributors – would neither confirm nor deny the SsangYong move when contacted by GoAuto about rumours circulating in the industry.

The switch would leave Sime Darby with the two French PSA partner brands, Peugeot and Citroen, while Ateco would add SsangYong to its stable of Great Wall, Chery, Ferrari, Maserati and Lotus.

As GoAuto reported recently, Sime Darby’s long-time SsangYong general manager Jeff Barber recently resigned to take up a new position as general manager of Sydney car retailer, the Dominelli Group.

The game of automotive brand musical chairs included the recent sale of the distribution rights for Fiat and Alfa Romeo by Ateco to the factory-backed Fiat Chrysler Group Australia.

In the background, several independent importers are engaged in bidding battles for Chinese marques, including the highly prized MG from China’s biggest motor company, Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC).

 center imageFrom top: Former SsangYong general manager Jeff Barber Ssangyong Korando.

The result of all these shifts might not be totally clear until 2013, as complex arrangements need to be sorted behind closed doors, all under strict confidentiality agreements.

Ateco Automotive public relations manager Edward Rowe told GoAuto: “My standard response to these questions is that we are always on the look-out for new brands to add to our business.

“Until we have concluded an agreement, we can’t say anything.”

Sime Darby public relations and promotions manager Jaedene Hudson took a similar line, saying: “I have heard the rumours, but I can’t comment.”

SsangYong vehicles have been in sale in Australia since 1994, and were even distributed by Mercedes-Benz Australia for a time when the Korean-made vehicles used Daimler engines.

Malaysian-based Sime Darby Motor Group (Australia) acquired the Australian distribution rights for SsangYong from SsangYong Motors Australasia – owned by Russell Burling and Vince Barbagallo – in 2008, appointing Mr Barber general manager and director.

However, SsangYong Motor Company – said to be Korea’s fourth-largest motor manufacturer – has had a checkered financial and industrial relations history at home base, plunging from one crisis to another over the past 15 years.

At various times it has been rescued by companies such as Daewoo and SAIC, both of which ultimately walked away.

Most recently, the bankrupt SsangYong was bought by India’s Mahindra & Mahindra in February 2011, bringing a vital injection of capital to help it bring the new Korando compact SUV and Actyon Sports ute to market.

These new models have given the brand a new lease of life in Australia, shedding bizarre, polarising styling for a more mainstream design language.

According to VFACTS data, SsangYong sales last year climbed 43.5 per cent to 1606 units. This year, sales are up by a further 24.8 per cent to the end of July, with Korando volumes jumping 48.7 per cent, mainly because of the addition of an Australian-made DSI six-speed automatic transmission.

While Sime Darby and Ateco have both declined to comment on the SsangYong shift, Ateco has confirmed that it is preparing to give up Citroen to another, unnamed importer, after handling the French marque for 18 years.

As GoAuto reported last month, the franchise is believed to be headed to Sime Darby, where French manufacturer PSA can consolidate both of its brands under one roof.

In sales volume terms, SsangYong and Citroen are similar-sized operations in Australia, with Citroen shifting 1032 vehicles this year to the end of July, compared with SsangYong’s 1106.

Remarkably, Citroen sales are up 24.8 per cent year to date – exactly the same as SsangYong’s.

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