SSANGYONG is poised to re-establish its position in the Australian automotive retail landscape with a holistic re-launch strategy that will boost its dealer presence and improve aftersales care along with a heavyweight promotional campaign.
Four new models will end a two-year retail hiatus when they arrive in November this year, but the South Korean company says a complete, multi-pronged assault on the local market is the only way it will earn the trust and attention of Australians.
Key to the campaign will be the reboot of the dormant dealer network that has been confined to service duties while the sales operations have been in its two-year stasis. According to SsangYong Motor Company export managing director Sanjeev Saksena, almost all the existing dealers want a piece of the relaunch action.
“The advantage we have is that we already have 27 dealers who have written an intention that they will continue with us, so we are not starting from scratch,” he said.
The company expects that figure to grow to about 30 showrooms for the official launch at the end of the year and that figure could double to 60 in the next five years, it says.
A stronger dealer network will be central to the company’s plans to bolster after-sales and service quality, which includes a “best in class warranty”.
SsangYong Australia’s freshly appointed managing director Tim Smith explained that the brand’s presence will be very different compared with previous years, with many areas under the spotlight for enhancement.
“Our offer to the market will be comprehensive, strong warranty, local tuning,” he said. “We will be doing everything in our power ensuring products, franchise offering and customer service will be as good and better than our competition.
“We certainly think we've learnt a lot from previous experiences and distributors in Australia. Certainly from SsangYong's point of view we know what can work and what doesn't work. We'll be as comprehensive or more comprehensive from a customer service, product offering and value proposition.”
Pricing and exact local specifications are yet to be confirmed for the four-model line-up, though SsangYong says we should expect ‘Kia and Hyundai pricing and Subaru performance’.
An exact warranty and service schedule is also still under development, but Smith said the end offering would be a ‘hybrid’ package that could be used as a strong marketing tool.
“Capped-price servicing is really good for the customer because they know what they’re in for, but it also limits the responsibility of the dealer,” he said. “So we’re probably looking at that in a hybrid model to begin with, so it will be strong for the customer – in that they know what the lifespan of the servicing costs are – but it won’t be as prescriptive for the dealers.”
Needless to say, capturing a new audience is a fundamental target for the revenant brand, but before that, the company says it is prioritising its existing loyal customers, many of whom are apparently missing SsangYong’s local presence.
While other relatively small car makers struggle to gain recognition in Australia, Saksena explained that the existing customer base will be a valuable leg-up from launch.
“We already have 18,000 customers. Our first marketing initiative will be to ensure that we reach those customers,” he explained. “We’ve been absent from the market for two years and there will be many people trying to replace their vehicle and we would like to ensure they are replace their SsangYong vehicles with a new SsangYong.
“Then those customers have to recommend us to the others, and our investments will also get into ensuring the new products are reaching new customers, and if the customers aren’t coming into the showroom then we need to reach the customers.”
After that, a more aggressive marketing and promotional drive will look to grab the attention of yet more potential newcomers to the brand, with a significant portion of the relaunch budget allocated to marketing.
“Here we also have an advertising company … who want to work with us and understand that not only is the product much better, but the communication is also very important because are going to invest millions of dollars,” said Saksena.
The venture to take over the Australian distribution from independent outfit Ateco will be the first of its kind globally for SsangYong. Export senior executive director Daniel Rim explained that among many advantages, the hand-back would allow a dramatic increase in promotional activity.
“Typically, distributors engage more actively in retailing and transactional promotions,” he said. “Less on the brand promotions, but when we come to Australia we will be heavily investing in brand building. That's a long term strategy.
“We're not looking for quarterly profits, we are looking for long term goals and long term sustainability.”
Many other brands enjoy the luxury of being woven into Australia’s history through longstanding relationships in the market and Smith said the company will be trying to integrate SsangYong into the lives of Australians.
“The products will do a lot of that work for us. Going forward, we would love to be part of Australian culture and Australian lives and offer our brand as a real alternative to our competitors, but that has to be balanced infrastructure, resources, investment and profitability that we do. But we're not going away, we're here for the long term.”
After the Australian launch this year, SsangYong will take over the distribution operations in other global regions, including Russia and the United States, but Rim insisted the pilot relaunch in Australia was not simply a toe in the water for other markets.
“All different regions have different marketing needs – driving preferences, habits are different – so we gain all these global perspectives of running our own retailing, so we already have the knowledge and we are going to apply that to the Australian market, as well as other markets in the future.”
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