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SsangYong back in form – and C200 in sight

C this: The SsangYong C200 is expected in both all-wheel drive and two-wheel drive versions when it is launched in Australia late this year.

Reborn SsangYong set for a big 2010 with new crossover, upgraded models, and more

2 Feb 2010

ARMED with a court-approved restructuring plan, the debt-stricken SsangYong Motors has set about resurrecting its sales and brand image with confirmation that its all-new and all-important compact SUV is certain to arrive in 2010 – and that Australia will be one of its most significant markets.

The South Korean manufacturer remains under bankruptcy protection – where it has sheltered for more than 12 months now – and has suffered numerous setbacks over the period, not least of which were a debilitating 77-day assembly plant strike and plummeting sales as the global financial crisis took hold.

While Australian sales were down 23.2 per cent last year to just over 1000 units, SsangYong’s sales at a global level fell 57.6 per cent to 34,900 units. Domestic sales were down 43.3 per cent, while exports plunged 70.5 per cent.

But that was then.

This week, the South Korean manufacturer – which received court approval for its restructuring plan in December – has reported a massive increase in global sales for the first month of 2010 (albeit from a low base): 4421 units, up from 1644 in January 2009, with domestic sales rising 75.4 per cent and exports more than quadrupling to 2406 units.

28 center image Left: Sime Darby Motors Group (Australia) managing director Rob Dommerson. Below: Ssangyong C200 concept.

Australian figures are still to be announced, but the managing director of SsangYong’s independent distributor Sime Darby Motors Group (Australia), Rob Dommerson, told GoAuto that SsangYong was back “on the front foot” in South Korea and viewed Australia as a “huge opportunity” for sales volume with the forthcoming crossover.

While SsangYong Motors Australia is also working on revitalising its current model range and expanding its dealer network, Mr Dommerson revealed that the so-called crossover urban vehicle (CUV), codenamed C200, is scheduled to arrive here in the final quarter and will be launched with a diesel engine and both a manual and automatic transmission.

The automatic is almost certain to be an Australian-produced gearbox from Albury-based Drivetrain Systems International – a company that last year fought, and won, its own battle for survival after SsangYong went into receivership.

Negotiations are now taking place over the final specifications and pricing for the compact SUV, which is without doubt the most appealing vehicle SsangYong has ever produced and will be sent into battle in the high-volume segment against a bevy of ultra-competitive new entrants from China, Korea and Japan.

Mr Dommerson said both all-wheel drive and two-wheel drive versions are expected to be available from launch, with petrol models to follow in 2010 – a move that will see an end to the brand’s current positioning as an all-diesel range.

The C200 was shown in Aero and Eco trim levels at the Seoul motor show last year, with the former offering a 130kW-plus “high-torque” 2.0-litre diesel – the powerplant expected at launch in Australia – and a 1.8-litre turbocharged petrol engine.

The Eco model was shown with a diesel-electric hybrid engine, which is still to be confirmed for production.

“At the moment, we are still negotiating the details, but it will be manual and automatic,” Mr Dommerson said. “The initial vehicle will be the diesel – so we’ll be launching with diesel, a fairly strong one, and ... in the following year – 2011 – there will be petrol variants as well.” More details will emerge with the unveiling of the still-to-be-named production version in South Korea around April, with a domestic launch scheduled for the third quarter.

A European launch for the ItalDesign-sculpted crossover is expected at the Paris motor show in October – two years after the C200 concept made its world debut in the French capital.

While he would not divulge Australian sales expectations for the C200, or the brand as a whole, Mr Dommerson said SsangYong’s volume and profile should improve as a natural consequence of the fresh metal and the profitable and stable situation in South Korea.

“We’re obviously looking for volume – and we’re looking for the new model to really put SsangYong back on the front foot,” he said.

“It really depends on what we can get in terms of pricing from the Koreans. They’re very keen to do volume, and when they look at the success of their ‘colleagues’ – Hyundai and Kia – they see Australia as a huge opportunity to do volume.

“But it’s a very competitive market, so things hang on negotiations.” Similar discussions are also taking place in relation to current models, most of which were upgraded in South Korea last month.

The Stavic people-mover was left untouched, but the bigger-selling Actyon, Kyron and Rexton SUVs and the Actyon ute have received an exterior facelift, more luxurious cabin trim and new options, such as wheel and tyre combinations.

Co-legal trustee for the company, Lee Yoo-il, said: “The new 2010 models reflect SsangYong Motor Company’s strong will to restart the engine with the final court approval for our turnaround plan. We are therefore committed to increase sales through dynamic marketing activities.

“Normalising the company operation as soon as possible will be the best way to repay our overseas distributors and customers for having stood by us through thick and thin. We will also launch new models responding to the global trends and needs.” In a further effort to kick-start its performance this year, SsangYong – which is majority-owned by China’s Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) – has also hired two former Hyundai Motor Co senior executives in recent weeks: Choi Johng-sik, who is responsible for global marketing, and Lee Jae-wan, who takes charge of product development.

Mr Yoo-il himself is a former president of Hyundai’s overseas division and helped set up Hyundai in Australia with original importer Alan Bond.

At a local level, Mr Dommerson said he wanted to grow the SsangYong business in Australia “to cover as broad a base as possible”.

“SsangYong was always a good opportunity for us,” he said. “It was disappointing and frustrating that the global financial crisis came along, and SsangYong got wrapped up in what was a protection by the government through the court of receivership.

“But you’ve got to stop and look – that happened to a lot of car companies. It was not unlike General Motors in Chapter 11 (bankruptcy), and Chrysler, and so on.

“We’ve got a fair way to come back in terms of the issues we had last year, but, again, looking around the world, General Motors has come back, Chrysler is coming back ... and what’s interesting for us is that SsangYong is also coming out of that.

“Supply has been very good. Our only real constraint at the moment is demand in the marketplace, which is very hard for us to judge – coming off the receivership situation.

“In Korea, they are producing around 30,000 cars a month now, they’re telling us that they’re profitable, and they really are on the front foot.” Sime Darby is also seeking to expand SsangYong’s national dealer network in Australia from 30 outlets to around 40 in the months ahead, with a particular focus on metropolitan dealers in eastern states.

“We have a strong rural and provincial network, but we certainly need more metro dealers,” Mr Dommerson said. “We are looking for probably another 10 dealers, which is a fair increase.

“The C200 will really be the icing on the cake for us. We’re not hanging everything on the back of, and waiting for, just this new model – we’re being very active now to boost the current models.

“The challenge for us is trying to get the brand volume going through our current dealer network.”

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