The previous distributor went into administration in December.
This week, Williams called his 60 dealers to a meeting to map out a recovery strategy that includes widening the retail network. He told them that revised models, including an improved Kyron, were on the way. Light-commercial derivatives may follow.
To achieve his target of 100 dealers selling 100 new SsangYongs a year, Williams must fill open points in the south-west, south-east, the Midlands and East Anglia.
Williams, who has previously headed Kia and Daihatsu in the UK, was spearheading China’s Landwind retail operation in Europe until just before Christmas. He was never totally committed to Landwind and missed working in this country.
SsangYong UK’s sales in 2007 plunged to around 1,300 from 2,017 in 2006. Executives at the company’s headquarters in South Korea viewed the brand’s sluggish UK performance with mounting concern from mid 2007.
Their UK dealers say managing director Ken Forbes and his team failed to grasp the opportunity. Forbes was earlier sales and marketing director at Citroën UK.
They talk with anger about 2007 as “a lost year” and one said: “Forbes was challenged at a dealer meeting to say where a claimed £3 million 2007 Q1 marketing budget was spent – he couldn’t. By Q4, so important to 4x4 sales, there was no marketing money left.”
When questioned by AM, Forbes said: “I have decided to say nothing about my time with SsangYong.”
Just before Christmas, six SsangYong dealers met Williams to brief him on what went wrong, and give their assessment of the brand’s potential. They are confident of growth.
Russell Dykes, managing director of ARD, based in Howden, East Yorkshire, said: “We and Paul Williams agreed we must win sales locally. When I take SsangYongs to point-to-point meetings and farmers’ event, I always sell them.
“Now vehicles like the Isuzu Trooper have gone, there’s great potential among people who want a well-priced 4x4 as a working vehicle.”
Grant Long, managing director of NMG (Norfolk Motor Group), was also at the meeting and knows Williams because he has the Kia franchise. “I have been with SsangYong from the start. The second half of last year was fraught and dealer confidence is low,” he added. “But I believe Williams can turn things round.”
Williams, who earlier built sales at Kia UK, said: “Around 180,000 4x4s will be sold in the UK this year. We can sell 3,000 to people who need a 4x4, not an image-maker.
“We have 10 service-only dealers, but I want the whole network to be selling SsangYongs. I believe I can convince dealers that a SsangYong franchise is a good long-term investment.
“We must build SsangYong from bottom up – dealers making people in their territory aware of the cars.
“Marketing spend must be well focused – don’t expect to see SsangYong TV commercials.”
#AM_SRT_SPLIT# Now Koelliker tries with SsangYong
Gerard O’Toole is believed to have invested a further £7 million last year in a vain bid to save his SsangYong UK distribution business.
Gruppo Koelliker, an Italian company that distributes SsangYongs in Italy, Austria and Hungary, has now added the UK concession. The £1.1 billion turnover business distributes many brands and sold around 100,000 units last year.
Korea’s SsangYong was acquired in 2004 by China’s Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC). Last month, SAIC merged with Yuejin Motor, parent company of Nanjing Automobile Corporation (NAC), which bought the remains of MG Rover.