The news situation in Sweden is not very productive, which gives us time to think outside the box. Mahindra is traded as a prospective shareholder or owner of NEVS-Saab. Unconfirmed, but the business press in Sweden sees a high probability.
Mahindra is also present in Germany. Not as in some southern European countries, with their own pickups and SUVs. But with the brand Ssangyong, which was acquired by Mahindra majority before 4 years. The oldest Korean manufacturer is considered a four-wheel specialist, but its existence in the German market is below the perceptual limit. Fewer than 1.000 vehicles, more than 100 German Ssangyong dealers were able to bring 2013 to the customer.
Ssangyong - the niche in the niche
The model range consists of four vehicles. There's the Actyon Sport, a pickup designed to be a lifestyle truck without being particularly chic and attractive, and the needs of the actual pickup clientele have been ignored. There is only one wheelbase, one cabin version, a much too short cargo area.
The Rodius is a 9-seater van, inexpensive, practical, robust. With all-wheel drive on request. Even if Ssangyong speaks of the “new” Rodius. He is old and has only had a facelift. People with a lot of space and a limited budget like the Rodius. There is no cheaper way to get around with 9 people on board.
The Rexton sees itself as an off-road vehicle, not an SUV. Officially, Ssangyong speaks of the Rexton W, also an oldie in the program that has been refreshed again and again. And finally, as the most modern model, there is the Korando, A compact SUV, with a pleasing, Italian design. Fits in the market like Kia Sportage, Opel Mokka, or Hyundai iX35.
To give me an overview, I leave for Mainz. The Saab center Mainz is also a partner of Ssangyong. Carsten Scholl is already waiting for me and taking the time to tell me more about Ssangyong. First, though, I have to take a look at the Saabs in the showroom before plunging deep into the ssangyong theme. And there is also a quick look for readers.
So, that was the promised dose of Saab, back to Mahindra and Ssangyong. Since its acquisition by Mahindra, Carsten Scholl reports, all models have been gradually reworked. Completely new, under Mahindra direction developed vehicles are in the pipeline and will come in the next years on the market. 2013 has released Mahindra a billion euros for the development of new engines and platforms at Ssangyong.
The import to Germany takes place via the Alcadis Group. A Belgian importer who, in addition to Ssangyong, also sells Suzuki, Isuzu and Hyundai in several countries. The German branch is located in Kerpen, and with managing director Ulrich Mehling, a former Saab Germany boss is on board. Which also explains the increasing spread of Ssangyong among Saab partners.
How does the Rexton drive?
It's time to drive a ssangyong after a long preface. I'm interested in the Rexton. A real off-road vehicle, left over from a time when all-wheel-drive cars were still built for the field. And not for the best parking in front of the hippest trendy place in the city. He could be the grandson of the Defender and offers with a price starting from 25.000,00 € much car for the money.
The engine, a 155 hp diesel developed by AVL, runs pleasantly quietly. The five-speed automatic, still a legacy from the Daimler license period, shifts smoothly. The power steering is designed American. You direct the car with one finger. You can like that, but you don't have to.
I like it and as we roll over the country road there is a view of the interior. Everything seems routinely processed, the fits are right, nothing rattles or squeaks. There is no room for criticism in this regard. The left elbow reminds of the age of the Rexton. It has almost as little freedom of movement as in the Defender. The Rexton is just a classic off-road vehicle.
A vehicle for the niche, which is unfortunately only allowed to pull 2.6 tons after the last facelift. Okay, for foresters, forest owners and people chugging around in the horse trailer, that could be a big minus point. But otherwise the ssangyong gets some sympathy from me. He is a solid and honest character with utility. Like that.
But what about the SUV from Ssangyong? How is the Korando, the latest model and the bearer of hope for increasing quantities.
Ssangyong vehicles have been known as Korando since 1983. Derived from “Koreans can do”, self-confidence raises expectations. It is best to deduce from the corando what Mahindra does and what does not. The small SUV was only recently revised, and since both versions are available in the Saab Center Mainz, I can see what is going on.
Clear is the desire for more value. The current Korando comes within striking distance of the competitors. If on the steering wheel a signet of Hyundai, Kia or Opel, it would be believable. Inside everything looks good, feels good. The equipment is extensive, and you can have, among other Bluetooth and USB in series. The optional leather seats exude a touch of luxury.
However, things like Xenon, navigation system or assistance systems are neither for money nor for having a good word. A disadvantage that should not bother the current buyers of a Korando. They shop for the cheapest possible price, not a brand.
Mahindra & Saab?
The visit to Mainz makes me a bit baffled at first. But with every kilometer between the state capital and me, the view of the situation becomes clearer. On the credit side are the vehicles from Ssangyong. They are better and more sympathetic than expected. But if Saab was already in the niche, then Ssangyong builds the niche in the niche. Around 145.000 vehicles have produced the Koreans 2013, distributed on 4 quite different model series. And of the 4 series, 3 are very clear niche products.
The brand has no image, at least not in Europe. The level of awareness is hardly measurable. The entire offer has to be completely renewed in order to keep up. Ssangyong is, in my eyes, a big building site. While Saab at least knows what the brand stands for, Ssangyong's profile is fuzzy. It should be reliable all-wheel drive cars. Character, steadfastness, reliability, says the manufacturer, characterize a Ssangyong. Aha! But who thinks of Ssangyong when you think of all-wheel drive? First I think of a Japanese brand, one from the USA, then one from England, then one from southern Germany. But Ssangyong? Nothing.
Mahindra has a lot of work to do with Ssangyong to get the brand on the road to success. This requires liquidity and ties up human resources. Can - and that's my question - Mahindra build Saab and Ssangyong at the same time? And are there synergies between the two brands?
Maybe I am wrong now, and if so, then I would be glad of the error. Because, of course, as a Saab fan, I want a future for the brand and a good owner. A success story, like Tata at Jaguar and Land Rover, that would be to my liking. But the mind does not signal a green light. Mahindra already has a challenge to overcome and will be busy with Ssangyong for years.
In parallel, to send Saab into a bright future, Indians need an inexhaustible pool of human resources and lots and lots of money. The best thing is a cash deposit, like Dagobert Duck. But Mumbai is not Entenhausen. Or?
Text & image: firstname.lastname@example.org