A South Korean court will this week elect a preferred bidder for Ssangyong Motor Co., with two Indian groups and one Korean firm still in the hunt for the embattled SUV manufacturer.

The field narrowed to three yesterday with the Renault-Nissan alliance walking away from the process, while Indian company Mahindra & Mahindra stepped up its bid with the submission of a binding offer.

Mahindra & Mahindra is joined by fellow Indian, the Pawan Kumar Ruia Group, and domestic firm YoungAhn Hat Co. in pursuit of what is expected to be a $US500 million ($547 million) deal.

Ssangyong is $US637.9 million ($697.8 million) in debt after failing to safely navigate the global financial crisis and has been in a state of court-led restructuring for around 18 months.

Global Ssangyong sales have increased more than 230 percent in the first seven months of this year, well ahead of last year’s 13,091.

In the first quarter, Ssangyong reduced its net loss by 90 percent from 2009, and of the 43,881 vehicles sold so far in 2010, a total of 26,190 have been exports.

Mahindra’s president in charge of automotive business, Pawan Goenka, told the Wall Street Journal exports would become the focus of the new Ssangyong if his company was successful in its bid.

“We want to buy it for the world market. We can’t justify buying it only for the Indian market,” Mr Goenka said.

Mahindra & Mahindra is aiming to follow in the footsteps of fellow India manufacturer Tata, who expanded globally in 2008 with the purchase of Jaguar and Land Rover, brands that Mahindra was also in pursuit of.

Recently Mahindra has secured a majority stake in Bangalore electric vehicle manufacturer Reva as well as bike company Kinetic.