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SsangYong set for C200 world premiere

Testing times: The SsangYong C200 compact SUV - seen here in Aero concept form - is set to be unveiled in South Korea next month.

Hot-weather testing in Australia for SsangYong C200 ahead of Busan world debut

SsangYong logo26 Mar 2010

By TERRY MARTIN

SSANGYONG Motors is set to present the production version of its all-new compact SUV at the Busan International Motor Show in South Korea on April 29, after engineering validation work that included hot-weather testing in the Northern Territory this month.

Crucial to the brand’s fortunes in Australia and elsewhere in the automotive world, the still-to-be-named vehicle – codenamed C200 – has been photographed cold-weather testing in Scandinavia in recent weeks and, GoAuto can confirm, has also been testing from Alice Springs as it enters the final stages of its development.

With Australia considered one of the top-five markets for the C200, SsangYong’s independent distributor Sime Darby Motors Group (Australia) has also been involved in the decision over the C200’s international model name and in recommending certain basic design cues for the vehicle.

The debt-stricken South Korean marque remains under bankruptcy protection, but is pressing ahead with its court-approved restructuring plan and ironing out difficulties along the way, which over the past two weeks have involved the Australian-based C200 gearbox supplier, Drivetrain Systems International (DSI).

DSI is now under the control of Chinese manufacturer Geely after winning its own battle for survival last year when SsangYong Motors – which is majority owned by China’s Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp – went into receivership.

28 center imageLeft: SsangYong C200 concept. Below: SsangYong C200 Eco concept.

Earlier this month, DSI stood down 170 casual workers after the Albury-based supplier, GoAuto understands, refused to commit to a production schedule for the six-speed automatic transmission it is contracted to build for the C200 without receiving payment for gearboxes already produced, as well as an advance for the work ahead.

Subsequent negotiations with SsangYong management have apparently resolved those issues this week, with casual workers now being reinstated. According to the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, at least five weeks’ work has been secured for the casual employees.

SsangYong Motors is now expected to present the final version of the C200 in Busan next month ahead of its Korean debut around June and its Australian arrival in the third quarter.

Sime Darby Motors Group (Australia) managing director Rob Dommerson has told GoAuto that a distributors’ conference would be held during the show, where pre-production versions will be driven and further details announced.

Mr Dommerson did, however, confirm that the C200 would be launched in Australia with a turbo-diesel engine, a choice of manual or automatic transmission, and two-wheel drive and all-wheel drive variants.

He added that petrol engine variants should still materialise in 2011, that there was no expectation in the short-term of a hybrid version (as seen on a concept at the Seoul motor show last year), and that it was reasonable to assume that the Australian line-up from launch would have various model grades, not unlike Hyundai has done with the ix35.

Indeed, the ix35 and sister brand Kia’s forthcoming (mid-2010) redesigned Sportage – which is built off the same platform – are considered key competitors for the C200, although Mr Dommerson said the SsangYong compact SUV would be slightly smaller and likely to cross into premium hatchback territory Nissan has been occupying with its Dualis crossover.

Clinics with potential Australian customers are already underway to determine the best marketing strategy for C200, and to ensure the model is well positioned in the marketplace when it arrives here in September or October.

Mr Dommerson said this will not include an aggressive pricing strategy against Chinese competitors, in particular Great Wall Motors’ X240, which is priced from $23,990 driveaway. Instead, SsangYong would position the vehicle “on a price-value basis”.

On that score, a high level of standard equipment is certain to be included across the Australian range, including standard fitment of ABS brakes, electronic stability control and numerous comfort and convenience features. The final airbag count is still to be determined.

Interestingly, six dealerships in the growing Australian SsangYong network – currently at 32 outlets, with Sime Darby targeting a total of 40 in the coming months – also operate a Great Wall franchise.

“On a local level, we’ve been putting on some new dealers, which is good news, and in terms of the factory ... production of the C200 is on track,” Mr Dommerson said.

“They have been testing (in the Northern Territory), and DSI have been out there testing their gearboxes at the same time. I assume we are going to see at the Busan motor show the final product, or a very close-to-final product ... and we’ll be driving the car.

“We’ve actually had a fair bit of input into the name, and in some of the design cues – what will work in the market. They’ve been very keen to make sure it is going to work for Australia, which is one of the top-five markets for them.

“We don’t know what the name is going to be – I guess we’ll find out in four weeks’ time. We’ve had quite a range of names. It depends on the size of the car, the market, obviously it will sell around the world – in Europe, South America, I think it will also be sold in the US – so they’re trying to find a common name that will fit all markets.

“In terms of the (slightly smaller) size of the car, and that we’ll be launching with diesel to start with, we really have been having a lot of discussion with our agencies to help us decide, with focus groups, (the best strategy) as it cuts across quite a few segments.

“We’re working on that right now – and that’s why we’re keen to have a look at what the car looks like in the final flesh,” he said.

Meanwhile, SsangYong Motors this week signed a memorandum of understanding with Daewoo Motor Sales – the former retail arm of GM Daewoo that severed ties with General Motors on March 10 – to co-operate in the sale of SsangYong’s Chairman luxury sedan and Rodius van in South Korea.

Under the deal, SsangYong will receive 20 billion Korean won ($A19.2 million) from Daewoo Motor Sales to assist with production of the vehicles, which will in turn be sold in Korea through Daewoo outlets.

If it comes off, the deal will be a welcome injection of funds for SsangYong, which overseas reports indicate is still battling for survival.

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