Ssangyong back on track with new SUV

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Ssangyong back on track with new SUV

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After a tough few years, industry insiders are saying Ssangyong Motor could be back on the road to its former glory - all thanks to its small-size Tivoli SUV.

With a new series of marketing tactics and the new model, the nation’s smallest automaker is hoping to once again be recognized a contender in the global market.

Ssangyong’s lowest point was July 2009, when it sold just 71 cars on the local market due mainly to financial troubles. But that wouldn’t have been evident from a glimpse at this year’s performance. In October, Ssanyong even beat out Renault Samsung Motors (RSM) in share of the Korean market, 5.8 percent to 4.8 percent. The automaker’s sales also increased 83.5 percent last month from a year earlier, from 5,455 to 10,008 vehicles.

The automaker’s turnaround began after Mahindra Group of India took the helm in 2010 and decided to have Ssangyong focus on its traditionally strongest sector: the SUV. The company invested 350 billion won ($323 million) over 42 months to develop the Tivoli, which is Ssangyong’s first new vehicle since the Korando C SUV in 2010, and also the first since the company was acquired by Mahindra.

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Industry insiders say Ssanyong has rolled out a vehicle that could be a new growth engine for the automaker, since the company has sold a total of 34,885 Tivolis in the past 10 months. The sales account for 44 percent of the company’s total in the domestic market this year and has rivaled other models sold by leading automakers such as the Tucson (Hyundai Motor), Sportage (Kia Motors), QM3 (RSM) and Trax (GM Korea). Through October, the company has sold a total of 79,251 cars, a 44.2 percent rise from a year earlier and the most since 2004. About 93 percent of Ssangyong’s sales were made from SUVs.

The biggest concern for Ssangyong has been expanding its share of the global market. The company already pulled out of Russia, which had been one of the biggest markets globally, due to the plummeting ruble. With other emerging markets like Brazil and India also struggling, so the automaker has been focusing on Europe, whose markets tend to be more stable. The company believes that the Tivoli will be the key model to boosting the company’s exports, though the company has sold only 37,982 cars in the export market through October, a 39.6 percent drop year-on-year.

To promote the model, Ssangyong has been running a series of promotions in Europe. After debuting the diesel-engine Tivoli in Frankfurt in early October, the automaker invited 80 reporters and dealers from 14 European nations including Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Spain and Norway to showcase the vehicle in-depth and hold test drives from Oct. 14-16. Prior to the Frankfurt event, the company held its global launch event for the Tivoli in June in Brussels, where about 2,100 people - including customers and dealers from six European nations, including Poland and Switzerland - attended.

In May, the company also opened a dealership in Ankara, Turkey, which it says is its largest in the world. That same month, Ssangyong also held an event in Italy for about 140 reporters and local dealers to test drive the Tivoli.

“We have seen some positive reactions during the media test event,” said a spokesman of Ssangyong Motor. “We expect Spain, the United Kingdom, Italy and Belgium to lead Tivoli sales in Europe. We will keep working on providing diverse marketing programs to satisfy consumers’ demands.”

The company has also been pushing the Tivoli on different media platforms, airing a commercial filmed in Barcelona on the biggest sports networks in Europe - the TV channels Euro Sports and Euro Sports2, as well as the website and Eurosports.com - for three months, reaching 54 European nations. At the same time, the company ran a different ad in the United Kingdom’s ITV and ESPN.

When Ssangyong launched the Tivoli in January, the automaker said it aimed to sell 60,000 of the model this year, which seems highly possible. In the past 10 months, the company has sold 50,523 Tivolis, 34,885 in Korea and 15,638 in the export market.

“We aim to boost that figure to 100,000 Tivolis around the world next year,” said Ssangyong CEO Choi Johng-sik, in a press meeting at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September, adding that a forthcoming trim could push sales above 120,000 units.

“The key to accomplishing these goals is the European market,” he said.

BY KWON SANG-SOO [kwon.sangsoo@joongang.co.kr]



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