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by Tim Beissmann

SsangYong is on the verge of abandoning its diesel-only strategy in Australia as it aims to boost local sales and broaden the appeal of its range.

SsangYong Australia embarked on the audacious ‘100 per cent diesel’ approach in 2008, believing a dramatic shift in consumer preference from petrol to diesel was just around the corner.

At the time, the brand’s then managing director predicted annual sales in 2008 would top 3500 on the back of increased demand for diesel-powered vehicles. In reality, sales plummeted 35 per cent to 1372 units.

Three years later, SsangYong’s sales have only grown marginally. The brand is on track to hit 1700 units for 2011, prompting a revised approach to the local market.

The brand recently changed its slogan from ‘We live diesel’ to ‘A lot of car, a little price’, opening it up to deviate from its diesel-only product offering.

SsangYong Australia’s current managing director Jeff Barber says the new tagline better conveys what he believes is the brand’s key strength – “value for money”. He admitted another advantage of the fresh philosophy was the newfound freedom to look beyond diesel-powered vehicles for our market.

Barber said the compact Korando SUV was likely to be the first model offered with a petrol engine. He said it could go on sale locally within 12 months, but admitted a 2013 launch is more likely as the local branch is yet to sign off on the model or begin testing the engine.

The South Korean manufacturer does not currently produce a petrol-powered Korando. The only engine available globally is a 129kW/360Nm 2.0-litre turbo diesel. The introduction of a petrol-powered Korando would likely reduce the price of SsangYong Australia’s most popular vehicle, which starts at $27,990 driveaway.

Despite the fuel economy benefits of diesel engines, petrol remains the fuel of choice in Australia’s SUV market, with 69 per cent of private buyers opting for petrol power. SsangYong is the only mainstream automotive brand in Australia to exclusively sell diesel-powered vehicles.

Although he is aware the brand has aimed high and hit low in the past, Barber is confident of reaching 3000 sales in 2012 as awareness of the Korando grows and the all-new Actyon Sports ute arrives in March.




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