Korean company reveals concept car as it plans to exit court administration
11 May 2009

Ssangyong is displaying its C200 concept car at the Barcelona motor show – even though the company is currently controlled by the Korean courts.

Financial troubles meant Ssangyong, which is part-owned by Chinese car maker SAIC, filed to go into court administration on 9 January this year.

As with US Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, this process allows the company to restructure and – if the courts approve – return to trading at a later date.

Officials at Ssangyong anticipate having the restructuring plans approved by the courts on 22 May. As a result it is pushing ahead with bringing the C200 - which is described as “vital to Ssangyong’s future” - to production by the end of the year.

“Ssangyong is absolutely sure the outcome of the court process will be positive,” said Paul Williams, managing director of Koelliker UK, which imports Ssangyong vehicles into Britain. “It didn’t approach the courts as it doesn’t have any money, but because it saw problems ahead. It has cash in the bank.”

The Ssangyong C200 concept car was previously displayed at the Seoul motor show earlier this year in two guises; a conventional model was called Aero, while a hybrid version was called Eco. It will be re-engineered for right-hand-drive and go on sale in Britain ahead of the March plate change next year.

Initially, there will be a choice of two SAIC derived engines: a 1.8-litre turbocharged petrol engine and a Euro 5 complaint 2.0-litre diesel unit. There will be six-speed manual and five-speed automatic gearbox options. The hybrid technology is said to be close to production, but no on-sale date has been set.

“The C200 represents a big step forward for the company,” said Williams. “It’s 90 per cent production ready and the quality is a big step forward on what Ssangyong has had in the past. It’s the first time we’ve had a monocoque vehicle in our line-up, and the platform can be used for front and four-wheel drive vehicles, so it will form the basis of more models.”

Autocar understands that the recovery document submitted to the Korean courts outlines the launch of five new Ssangyong models. The company has not committed to a timeframe for the launches due to the uncertain economy, but the second new model will go on sale in 2011, and the rest will follow within the next five years.

No specifics on the vehicles have been released, but they are expected to include all-new replacements of the current Kyron, Rexton and Rodius, plus the C200 and a family-sized car. Further details will be made public once the Korean courts clear the way for Ssangyong to resume trading outside of its adminsitration.

“The company has looked at all the key sectors and targeted them,” said Williams. “It needs to get on the road to recovery as fast as possible, and in many ways the time in receivership has helped that process, as it has been able to prepare the production lines for the switchover to new vehicles.”

A production version of the C200 will be shown at the Frankfurt motor show in September. Styled by Giugiaro’s ItalDesign in Italy, it has a 2.65m wheelbase and an overall length of 4.4m. The car will undergo Euro NCAP crash testing before going on sale.

“The C200 is vital to Ssangyong’s future,” said Williams. “The court administration time should be a watershed for the company, It has reduced its staff count 34 per cent, sold off its unwanted assets and got itself strong for the current market. By grasping the nettle and sorting itself out, Ssangyong is poised to reap dividends.”

Williams added that Ssangyong will continue with its policy of under-cutting rivals, despite the C200 representing better quality.

“We’ve got to be aggressive and reflect the perceived lack of credibility of the brand,” he said. “The car has been benchmarked against the likes of the Nissan Qashqai, Toyota Rav 4, Kia Sportage and Ford Kuga, and we want to attract buyers who would normally consider those types of cars.”

Jim Holder

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