The £274m acquisition of a 49% stake in bankrupt SsangYong from its creditors marks the first time that a Chinese-based company has bought a foreign car firm. SAIC, which has joint production ventures with Chinese market leaders Volkswagen and General Motors, plans to increase its share to 51%.
Tom Martin, SsangYong UK Cars’ sales and marketing director, says: “It is business as usual at our headquarters in Fleet, Hampshire. We are telling our retailers that it is enormously positive because there will be continuity and more investment in future products. As the Korean factories increase output they will reduce costs, making the network more cost-effectively profitable.”
SsangYong’s British retailer network will grow from 45 to 53 outlets by the end of September, climbing to 75 at the end of this year. Martin says the expansion includes “defecting” Kia retailers, “bolt-ons” to Skoda, Peugeot and Citroen outlets, plus Subaru-Isuzu franchise holders seeking replacements for the Trooper SUV.
Martin agrees that ending “brand confusion and anxiety issues” is imperative.
“People like the product but worry about it being a vanishing brand, which then re-appeared as a Daewoo (SsangYong’s former owner) before reverting to its original status,” he says.
New products promised within the next two years include an SUV – slightly smaller than the Rexton mainstay – plus a short-wheelbase variant to challenge Land Rover’s Freelander.
A replacement for the larger Musso is planned along with a European specification version of the domestic Korean Rodius MPV.
This year SsangYong anticipates selling 1,000 units rising to 7,000 in 2006. SsangYong UK Cars was established by SsangYong Ireland’s founder Gerard O’Toole in 2002 and started importing Rextons last summer.