It may be among the smaller manufacturers, but Ssangyong has big plans for the light commercial vehicle market, as proven by its bold presence at the Commercial Vehicle Show last month.
The firm, which sold 3,590 vehicles in 2017, intends to more than double registrations, increase its number of dealers and ramp up fleet business, with the focus firmly on 4x4s and pick-ups, both of which are fast-growing areas of the LCV sector.
Speaking to Transport News Brief, the company’s managing director, Nick Laird, explains how he intends to broaden its UK footprint and simultaneously boost profitability: “We have a volume growth plan, over three or four years, to get to 8,000 units a year, and the way we will do that is partly through new products and using [them] and the profitability to attract good quality new dealers.”
Laird, who took up the position of MD in January, has his sights set on increasing the dealer network by around a third, which will involve recruiting small retailers who specialise in 4x4s and pick-ups. “We want to go from give or take 60 to give or take 90 [and] in the last six months, we’ve taken on six new dealers. We have got an active programme on at the minute and are advertising in a few places but, in reality, what we’re looking at is a few dealers from a number of places in rifle shot.
The company has recently launched quarterly dealer council meetings, which involve representatives from the manufacturer and the retailers knocking heads: “I understand there was the occasional, ad-hoc meeting [before the councils began] but we now have a formal meeting once a quarter, where we plan in advance what we’re going to talk about,” says Laird, “we make sure that the dealers gather the feedback from others around them, so it’s a much more structured, much more formal, much more professional – if I’m honest about it – way of doing things. Every other major brand will have a dealer council, so what we’re doing is nothing abnormal in that regard. It’s just helping Ssangyong go from being a teenager to being a young adult.”
The growing number of retailers will be tasked with selling the latest incarnation of the Musso pick-up and the Rexton 4×4. The former is due on sale in July and “drives like an SUV, not like a truck,” according to Laird, as it’s based on the Rexton. He believes the Musso can carve a niche at the budget end of the growing UK pick-up market, while a longer wheelbase version with a larger flatbed is also in the offing. “The new one is much more substantial [than it’s predecessor] and it’s much larger, much more tough vehicle.” He adds that the latest Rexton is a “large, traditional 4×4 with a body-on-chassis construction, so it’s not a unibody, but as a result of that, it will tow three and a half tonnes – and it’s 4×4 magazine’s 4×4 of the year”.
Another component of the expansion plan is to engage with the fleet market. Traditionally, Ssangyong has not been a big corporate player, but it has devised a series of initiatives to become more ensconced in the business sector, again starting with the dealer network. “We are doing a lot more fleet and business-user-specific stuff,” adds Laird, “[We’re] working with about 20 of our dealers who said ‘I don’t think I do enough with my local businesses, so let’s get something going’.” The company has subsequently launched a pilot programme designed to train the 20 retailers to deal with contract hire companies and work with local businesses to pep up fleet sales.
Elsewhere, it has begun increasing its efforts to engage with leasing firms and is targeting businesses that require tough, working vehicles.
“The Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA), the Highways Agency or the likes of construction companies – so SHS, a hire company, for example – they’re all a good fit for us. Those are the kinds of people we are either actively talking to or trying to talk to, where there’s a fit, and the aim is to do as much via dealers as we can so that you get a relationship between a local businessperson and their local dealer.”