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SsangYong set for 2003 Aussie debut

Heading our way: The mid-size Rexton will be sold here in both petrol and diesel forms.

Melbourne motor show launch for South Korean off-road specialist

26 Nov 2002

FINANCIALLY embattled South Korean four-wheel drive specialist SsangYong is set to enter the Australian market in its own right for the first time, with a launch scheduled for the Melbourne motor show next March.

Heading the SsangYong line-up will be the Rexton mid-size off-roader, but the Musso is also on the list to be reintroduced a few months later along with a utility version called the Musso Sports.

It is believed the Mercedes-Benz lookalike Chairman luxury car is even being considered for possible local sale. But we would get the new generation model that goes on sale next year.

The return of SsangYong to Australia is being controlled by Rapson Holdings, the New Zealand SsangYong distributor since January 2001 and also the Daewoo distributor there until the recent GM Daewoo takeover.

Rapson is planning to appoint state distributors to handle the SsangYong brand rather than trying to co-ordinate distribution from a central office.

A launch network of 20 dealers is expected to be announced in Melbourne. The Australian sales target is said to be a modest 5000 sales over the first five years.

Rapson beat a proposal from Motor Group Australia, the distributor of MG Rover vehicles here, to gain the SsangYong deal. It is believed there were other potential distributors in the race for the deal as well.

SsangYong vehicles have previously been sold in Australia through Mercedes-Benz and Daewoo dealerships, reflecting the ownership status of the parent company at the time.

But since the formation of GM Daewoo, SsangYong Motor has become an independent, owned by a group of creditor banks. While trading profitably, the company is weighed down by a significant debt burden.

Negotiations for a takeover by the PSA Peugeot Citroen group have only recently failed, according to international media reports.

The Rexton is expected to be very much the sales star in Australia, being pitched into the booming mid-sized off-roader segment. At 4.72m long, 1.83m high, 1.87m wide and with a 2.82m wheelbase, it 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.

Further down the track, the Musso will be replaced by two five-door models, styled and sized differently. There is also a nine-seat people mover in the works.

* The Musso Sports is a tray-back version of the Musso five-door wagon with a capacity of up to 400kg and length increased by 275mm. Developed over 16 months at a cost of KRW45 billion, SsangYong says the Sports is South Korea's first production Sports Utility Truck (SUT).

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