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Ssangyong Motor may go all-in on SUV market

Ssangyong Motor on Tuesday said the company is planning to revamp its flagship large sedan the Chairman into a sport utility vehicle model, hinting at the company’s future direction as an all-SUV maker.

“There is a risk of carrying on with the Chairman W as a sedan,” said Ssangyong CEO Lee Yoo-il in a news conference at the Geneva Motor Show.

“We are considering various options for the future. Changing our platforms to high-end SUV production in order to meet with the market demand is one of them. We have already reached a consensus with our largest shareholder Mahindra & Mahindra about it. I have ordered the workers to draw specific plans,” Lee said.
 
Ssangyong Motor CEO Lee Yoo-il poses with the company’s concept car the Tivoli EVR at the Geneva Motor Show on Tuesday. (Ssangyong Motor)
Ssangyong Motor CEO Lee Yoo-il poses with the company’s concept car the Tivoli EVR at the Geneva Motor Show on Tuesday. (Ssangyong Motor)

Launched in 1997, the Chairman is the only sedan produced by Ssangyong. The rest of its vehicles are all SUVs ― Rexton, Korando and Tivoli.

The Chairman has lately been struggling with sales, partially due to the increasing popularity of SUVs in Korea which have marked a double-digit growth every year. The previous version, Chairman H, has already been pulled from the market. And if the Chairman W sedan model ceases its production, Ssangyong will be transformed into an all-SUV carmaker.

But that day may not come too soon, Lee stressed.

“We are not cutting off the Chairman right away. We are just thinking of ways to improve it. The revision could take around four to five years,” he said.

Such a drastic decision appears to be influenced by the unexpected success of the compact SUV Tivoli, of which 5,000 units were sold in less than two months from its launch in January. The model has already reached 15 percent of its initial sales target of 38,500 units this year.

Ssangyong is set to introduce Tivoli to the European market in June, and has set a sales goal of 10,000 by December. “Tivoli will become the main axis of our sales improvement,” Lee said.

Lee, who offered to resign in January, is about to be replaced by Choi Johng-sik, Executive Vice President and Head of Sales & Marketing G. HQ of SsangYong Motor, in March. The outgoing CEO will remain in the company as vice chairman for two years.

By Bae Ji-sook (baejisook@heraldcorp.com)
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