Korean brand Ssangyong is back from the dead. After looking odds-on favorite to become another automotive casualty of the global recession after Chinese owner SAIC put it into receivership in early 2009, the 4x4 specialist has found a new owner in 2010 - signing a memorandum of understanding with Indian company Mahindra & Mahindra in August - and has just re-launched its brand with a new car designed by Giugiaro.
The fourth-generation Korando mid-sized crossover - prefaced by the C200 concept shown at the April 2009 Seoul motorshow - is due on sale in January 2011 pending the expected completion of the Mahindra deal in November this year. Based on a new platform and body with a self-developed powertrain, Ssangyong's first monocoque model is 4410mm long, 1830mm wide and 1675mm high with a long-for-segment 2650mm wheelbase. Sitting between the shorter Nissan Qashqai and longer Qashqai+2 it will take on both vehicles as well as other segment rivals like the Hyundai ix35, Mitsubishi ASX and Kia Sportage.
The car's higher quality deep-set grille has been confirmed as the new face of Ssangyong, and represents a much bolder look recalling that of the Jaguar XF. As such, it's a big jump in design after the widely derided existing range made up of the Actyon, Kyron, Rexton and Rodius (including a few designs from ex-RCA lecturer Ken Greenley). Indeed, that range will largely become extinct. Both the mid-sized Kyron SUV and larger Rexton SUV will be axed and the Actyon ‘Coupe SUV' model will disappear in Europe with the pick-up variant re-born as a more ‘lifestyle-oriented' model. The future of the mammoth, up to 13-seat, Rodius MPV remains undecided but if Ssangyong does decide to bring it back it will only be a seven-seater.
In their places, more Giugiaro-designed Ssangyongs will arrive with bigger (Nissan X-Trail-sized) and smaller (think Nissan Juke) crossovers to join the Korando in late 2011 and 2012 respectively. After that, various other Giugiaro vehicle proposals are also on the table for discussion.
However, the fly in the ointment from Ssangyong's perspective is the VW Group's recent acquisition of Giugiaro's Italdesign business that looks set to jeopardize the future relationship of the two parties. Soo Won-Lee, Ssangyong's head of R&D (and also in charge of design) admitted as much at the car's launch in late September on the Spanish island of Mallorca, telling Car Design News: "Giugiaro is very proud of this model and wanted to come to this event, but since the VW Group deal, he has changed his mind. Regarding future models we are looking for any kind of option, maybe with new independent partners in conjunction with our in-house team."
Ssangyong currently has about 80 design staff within a 600-strong R&D group in Seoul and although Won-Lee would not be drawn on exactly which independent firms those designers might be working with, he did say one was from Germany and that the brand was preparing a concept for the 2011 Geneva motorshow via a European studio.
It's still very early days of course. The firm is only expected to produce about 85,000 vehicles in 2010 due to worker strikes and other supply problems relating to the upheaval of being under bankruptcy protection for some 18 months, but its new management team - many of whom are ex-Hyundai - has big plans to get global sales back up to its 160,000 a year high point in 2007 and then higher in order to fully utilize its circa 220,000 Korean production capacity.
As Johng Sik-Choi, chief operating officer and vice-president of global marketing, exclusively told Car Design News: "Right now we have a very low brand position, but we have long experience in 4x4s and eventually we want to have products that are above cars like the Ford Kuga and VW Tiguan, to become a kind of Korean Land Rover."