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Future models - SsangYong - Chairman

First look: Chairman challenges luxury locals

Choice Chairman: The two Ssangyong Chairman models coming to Australia should be the Cm600S and the range-topping Cm600L.

Statesman and Fairlane now have a South Korean rival in Ssangyong's Chairman

SsangYong logo12 Mar 2004

SSANGYONG will head onto the beaten track when it launches the Mercedes-Benz look-a-like Chairman luxury sedan on the Australian market around mid-year.

And it will follow that up with a seven-seat people-mover currently codenamed A100, which will be launched at the Sydney motor show in October.

They will join a range that is already expanding from the Rexton off-road wagon to include the Musso Sports dual cab utility and the Korando short wheelbase off-roader over the next couple of months.

The Chairman is intended to line up directly against the Ford Fairlane and Holden Statesman, with pricing tipped to start around $57,000.

But Ssangyong won’t stop there, with a long wheelbase version also in the pipeline with pricing pitched just under $100,000.

The local launch of the South Korean luxury car will give Holden a preview of what the Statesman can expect when it goes on-sale in Korea – as a Daewoo – early in 2005.

Ssangyong – the smallest South Korean manufacturer – has been best known for its four-wheel drive and off-road vehicles, but has also sold the Benz-based Chairman in the booming Korean luxury market since 1998.

A new generation of the rear-wheel drive car was launched in January in South Korea, still aping Mercedes-Benz looks and underpinned by the platform from the 1985-1996 W124 E-class.

The two models coming to Australia should be the Cm600S and the range-topping Cm600L, both sharing the same 3.2-litre six-cylinder engine producing 162kW at 5500rpm, and 310Nm at 3750rpm.

But, as shown by the chart below, they vary by a significant 300mm in terms of both wheelbase and overall length. The LWB version is also 50kg heavier.

28 center image They are also better equipped than the six-cylinder base model versions of the Fairlane and Statesman with standard electronically controlled suspension, leather interior and power everything.

The chairman of local Ssangyong distributor Rapson Australia, Russell Burling, told GoAuto he expected to sell just 50 of the short wheelbase Chairmans per year and no more than 10 LWBs, mostly accounted for by the hotel trade. That compares to 5424 Statesman/Caprice and 2535 Fairlane/LTD sales in 2003 here.

"It will be a limited volume for us we believe, but it is available to us and we think it helps with the brand image," Mr Burling said.

"It’s a major player in the Korean luxury car market … it’s high quality, it’s driveability is Mercedes-Benz, it’s based on a Mercedes-Benz platform." Mr Burling bullishly dismissed the perception the car was simply a cheap South Korean copy of an old Benz.

"I think the car is a lot better than that, certainly I think you will be surprised," he said.

"I guess you could say a Fairlane or a Statesman is an imitation of Falcon or a Commodore.

"This is not. This is a luxury car. They wouldn’t make a limo out of it and sell it to a lot of the hotels around Asia unless it was a pretty good car." Mr Burling revealed that the plans to sell the Statesman in South Korea had prompted Ssangyong to send one of its directors to Australia to drive the local product.

"He went away smiling … I think they were concerned about Statesman in Korea because they don’t know pricing and positioning yet, but I think their feeling was it will need a fair bit of work to be accepted in the Korean market," Mr Burling said.

"We like a hard ride and low profile tyres in Australia but that’s probably going to be unacceptable on Korean roads." The A100 will be renamed when it is launched in South Korea around the end of March or the start of April, offering seven seats and 2.7-litre common-rail turbo-diesel power mated to a five-speed tiptronic automatic gearbox.

Based on the same platform as the Chairman, it will also offer the choice of rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive configurations, although no raised ride height or low range. Ssangyong Australia plans to pitch it in the $40,000-$50,000 bracket.

"If someone asked how big is the target, it’s a case of how long is a piece of string, because that type of product has never been available in Australia before," Mr Burling said.

"It’s probably the first cross-over SUV MPV that will be on the market here.

"It takes seven passengers and their luggage. I don’t know of another vehicle rear-drive or four-wheel drive that’s able to do that."

HOW THEY COMPARE

Chairman Cm600LChairman Cm600SFairlane GhiaStatesman
Length5435mm5135mm5153mm5193mm
Wheelbase3200mm2900mm2919mm2939mm
Kerb weight1860kg 1810kg1770kg1691kg
Engine3.2 I63.2 I64.0 I63.8 V6
Power162kW162kW182kW152kW
Torque310Nm310Nm380Nm305Nm
Price$95,000 (est)$57,000 (est)$53,450$53,990

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