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Rights to Rexton left in limbo

Ssangyong Rexton: Daewoo Automotive Australia forecasts pricing from around $42,000 for the Rexton.

A new four-wheel drive from South Korea could be the centre of a tussle over distribution rights in Australia

13 May 2002

THE Ssangyong brand - and in particular the new Rexton mid-size four-wheel drive - could become the subject of a distribution rights tug of war between the two partners in Daewoo Automotive Australia.

DAA is a 50/50 joint-venture between Daewoo Motor Company and Indonesian trading company Starsurya, and there is speculation the venture could be dissolved in the wake of GM's takeover of key Daewoo assets.

The takeover has left DAA in something of a state of limbo, GM only stating so far that the Daewoo brand will continue in Australia and that it hopes to negotiate a new arrangement successfully with the existing distributor within 90 days.

That means the flow of Daewoo models continues as scheduled in Australia - the M150 Matiz due in June with a new four-speed automatic gearbox, the 1.5-litre Kalos hatch and sedan in August, a 1.0-litre Matiz probable in October and the Magnus inline six-cylinder mid-size sedan at the end of the year.

But those negotiations could also result in Starsurya being bought out of its Australian involvement, leaving DAA as a factory subsidiary.

That could then trigger a tug of war for the rights to Ssangyong and the Rexton in Australia between DAA and Starsurya.

That is because negotiations over local distribution have been taking place directly between DAA and the Ssangyong factory, and have no direct connection to the GM takeover.

Through its Daewoo involvement, Starsurya has extensive experience in the distribution and retailing of vehicles in Australia, and if a split does come Ssangyong could be a way for it to retain an involvement here.

In addition to Daewoo vehicles, DAA has handled the distribution of Ssangyong 4WDs in Australia, including the Korando and Musso, since the late 1990s. That arrangement sprang out of Daewoo's brief ownership of Ssangyong before bankruptcy. Before that, Ssangyongs were distributed in Australia by Mercedes-Benz.

DAA executive director Michel de Vrendt, Starsurya's senior representative at the com-pany, would not comment on the Rexton or the prospects of Starsurya being bought out.

But DAA public relations manager Neal Fraser confirmed DAA had slowed negotiations with Ssangyong over the Rexton - which have been continuing since last year - because of the GM takeover of Daewoo.

"Until it's tied off here I don't think we are going to be able to sit down at the table with Ssangyong," Mr Fraser said. "It would be pointless to sit down and do a deal and then things change." Nevertheless, DAA has hopes of getting the Rexton - which is planned to have two spec levels and a choice of 3.2-litre petrol and 2.9-litre turbo-diesel engines - here as soon as August, with pricing set around $42,000 and $48,000.

It is planning to set up an off-road focussed specialist network to handle Ssangyong, rather than market the car through all Daewoo dealers, and has contracted an expert in 4WD sales and marketing to decide just how the Rexton should be presented and who the target markets are.

Rexton measures up

WITH mid-size 4WD sales booming in Australia, it is no wonder the Rexton is attracting plenty of interest from the various factions within DAA.

With at least some styling input by Italdesign, the Rexton is a far cry from the unloved Korando once sold here and still sold in South Korea.

At 4.72m long, 1.83m high, 1.87m wide and with a 2.82m wheelbase, it also measures up quite closely to the popular Mitsubishi Pajero.

Motive power is provided by the choice of a 3.2-litre, inline six-cylinder engine producing 152kW at 6000rpm and 294Nm at 4600rpm, and a five-cylinder, 2.9-litre turbo-diesel producing 88kW at 4000rpm and 250Nm at 2250rpm.

Both engines are available with five-speed manual and optional four-speed automatic transmissions, the latter manufactured in Australia by BTRA. The petrol version is mated to a transparent torque on demand 4WD system, while a shift-on-fly Borg-Warner transfer case is fitted to the diesel. Both versions come with low-range.

Underpinning the Rexton is a full ladder frame with front suspension by double wishbones and the rear by multi-link. Steering is by rack and pinion while disc brakes are mated to ABS and are standard all-round.

To be sold in two specifications, the entry level Rexton will retail for around $42,000 and include at least dual airbags, ABS, air-conditioning and power windows and mirrors.

The up-spec SE will be around $48,000 and add leather trim, climate control air-conditioning and traction control.

DAA is forecasting about 1000 sales per annum for the Rexton.

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