SsangYong is looking to relaunch in the UK as well as strengthen its dealer network now its future has been secured by Indian manufacturer Mahindra & Mahindra.
Supply and sales have stalled. Just 242 models were sold in the UK last year as the Korean brand was forced to restructure in 2009 after going into court receivership.
The company was rescued when Mahindra agreed to buy a 70% stake. The deal was finalised in March. There are currently 50 SsangYong dealers in the UK with 35 sales points and 15 service centres.
Paul Williams, chief executive of importer SsangYong Motors UK (formerly Koelliker UK), is looking to switch all dealers to selling new cars, as well as increase the network to 65 ready for the March 2012 plate-change. It could increase to 85 by 2013.
He will embark on a recruitment drive to fill 20 open points across the country, including south-east London, Greater Manchester, Liverpool and Nottingham.
Williams told AM: “Effectively we are looking at a relaunch in September. With all that was going on we had to tread a careful path. Over that 18 month period we actively looked to reduce and work with the stock we had.
“I met with all the dealers and was candid about the situation. I explained a worst case scenario if things went badly, but also explained what position we’d be in if things went well. We have been getting ourselves in shape.”
Dealers agreed to continue with servicing, parts and used cars. None were relying solely on the SsangYong franchise. SsangYong lost one dealer during the restructure period.
The dealers are working to the same franchise contracts. New contracts in line with 2013 Block Exemption regulations will be sent out next year.
Keith Kingham, managing director of SsangYong dealer Kinghams in Croydon, said: “It’s been a tough time. Any SsangYong dealer would say the same, but we’ve got through it.
“We’ve been good at keeping customers informed and the company kept us as informed as it could do. Communication has been good and always realistic.”
He said: “Now the business has secured funding we’re very confident about the future of the brand. It’s a niche brand and the customers are terribly loyal. We’re a small family run business so it fits really well with us.”
The Korando crossover SUV will lead SsangYong’s product offensive when it goes on sale next month. Refreshed versions of the Rexton and Rodius will follow next year and there will be lower CO2 models of all three next year. A lifestyle pick-up will launch in February 2013. The company will also unveil a new model concept at the Frankfurt Motor Show next month.
SsangYong will be looking to steal market share from fellow Korean brands Hyundai and Kia, as well as Mitsubishi and Nissan. The brand will look to highlight a low price/high quality message in targeted online marketing campaigns aimed at caravan towers, horse owners and farmers.
Williams said: “The issue for us is awareness. We will continue to be a niche player and I genuinely believe there’s room for us in the market.
“Recruiting new dealers will give us the biggest impact in awareness. Our mar-keting will be highly specialised to help get our network the leads it needs. Working with a small marketing budget you have to make what you’ve got work for you.”
The brand’s awareness will be pushed by ex-Chrysler/Jeep marketing director Steve Gray. Williams said: “I’m very confident of our future and the dealer network is behind us.”