GOODBYE, Ssangyong – and thanks for all the cars? Unless something dramatic happens between the time of writing this and the moment The Champion pops through your letterbox, I don’t think that’s a given, but it isn’t looking good for Korea’s fourth-biggest carmaker.
While manufacturers here are grappling with coronavirus, a shortage of bits arriving from Felixstowe and Dover and Brexit, on the other side of the world the chaps who brought you the Korando and the Rexton have filed for receivership after missing a loan payment of 60 billion won – that’s roughly £40 million in Queen’s English – and its majority shareholder, Indian carmaker Mahindra, is reportedly considering flogging the company.
The good news is that its 65 UK dealers have said it’s business as usual, so you shouldn’t be worried should you have a shiny new Tivoli on order. However, no matter how its UK division’s doing, it’s also true that the company’s reported an operating loss in 15 consecutive quarters. No matter how much of the blame you pin on mutant viruses, I reckon it’s got an awful lot to do with the cars – or rather, the lack of them.
There’s nothing especially wrong with the Korando or the Rexton but they’re chunky off-roaders in a very competitive market. Where are the on-trend electric offerings? It’s only just getting around to launching a hybrid twist on the Korando, but in a world where an all-electric Jaguar won European Car of the Year, and where Tesla’s zero emissions BMW-bater, the Model S, very nearly bagged it this year, that ship’s clearly sailed. MG, on the other hand, has stuck everything on red in making a mixture of small hatches and crossovers with all-electric on the table. Say what you want about it not really making cars here and trading off a famous badge, but it’s now the UK’s fastest growing carmaker.
Ssangyong, for now at least, is entirely about off-roaders – in much the same way that Saab was entirely about slightly leftfield luxury offerings and Rover didn’t do much other than comfy saloons and hatches for the National Trust brigade. In a world where twentysomethings would rather spend their hard-earned cash on a Nintendo Switch than a secondhand Nissan, carmakers need to be able to offer zero emissions shopping cars, cleverly thought-out hatches, crossovers that stand out from the crowd and dependable off-roaders.
BMW’s bread and butter is brilliantly balanced rear-wheel drive saloons, but in 2020 it’ll sell you a front-wheel-drive people carrier, an all-electric city car, a hybrid supercar with Lamborghini-esque scissor doors, a four-wheel-drive off-road coupé, a two-seater sports car that’s a Toyota Supra beneath the skin and its usual 3-Series and 5-Series offerings. That's variety - it'll always win, because it has something for everyone.
I hope Ssangyong can get back on its feet and get back to doing what it does best – but while there’s nothing wrong with the cars it makes, there’s plenty wrong with what it doesn’t.
David Simister is the editor of Classic Car Weekly