Is Astara looking at SsangYong?
Back in 1990’s Philippines, Korean brand SsangYong was quite popular. The collaboration with Daimler swayed quite a few customers with the Musso SUV as well as the Istana; that last model you would have probably known as the Mercedes-badged MB 100D.
But since then, SsangYong hasn’t had an easy time in the Philippines. In the 2000’s, the designs of SsangYong were just, well, you know. You just have to look at the SsangYong Actyon and the first generation Stavic/Rodius. Eventually, SsangYong quietly disappeared.
A return of SsangYong happened with Berjaya in 2016; the same group that was already handling Mazda. They actually came in at the right time as SsangYong was launching a new wave of interesting and value packed models in key segments. And crucially, the new wave of SsangYong’s new models looked better too.
Lately though SsangYong’s operations in the Philippines has been very quiet. The distributor was doing its role to take care of customers, but SsangYong itself was having problems at home. We’re talking bankruptcy related, so much so that SsangYong parent company Mahindra & Mahindra was busy looking for buyers for the brand. After a public series of issues, SsangYong was rescued from bankruptcy proceedings by KG Mobility.
There may be a change though as we’ve been hearing hints that a distributor already engaged in business in the Philippine market is looking at adding a Korean brand to its portfolio. That company is Astara, an international company that has set up operations in the Philippines as a distributor for Peugeot (backed by the tariff advantage of a Malaysian assembly plant) and GAC (backed by the massive economies of scale of China).
While no executive of Astara will officially acknowledge that they are looking at SsangYong as their next new brand, SsangYong is the only logical option. The passenger car side of Hyundai is already well established with the new Hyundai-backed distributor. HARI is handling the truck and bus side. Kia is already with Ayala, so there’s no switch going on. Daewoo no longer exists as it became GM Korea, and their vehicles are imported by TCCCI as Chevrolets. The other one is Renault-Samsung, but we haven’t heard of anything that would make us think they are interested in entering our market.
That really leaves only SsangYong which is now under KG Mobility. When we also look at Astara’s global portfolio, we can see that SsangYong is already in their mix. Astara is already the SsangYong distributor in Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Canary Islands and Chile. In the last two locations, Astara is also doing dealer retail. That means Astara has an established relationship and history with Ssangyong.
We reached out to the current distributor of SsangYong, and there are still a few dealerships for the brand here in Luzon along with the network in Mindanao. What they did tell us was that SYMC (SsangYong Motor Company) did indicate that they were talking to others in the market before, but there have been no updates since.
If SsangYong is to move forward in the Philippine market with their new generation models like the Torres, will it be with Berjaya? Will it be with Astara? Or will they join another group?
Here's the kicker though: Astara is also looking at another brand, apart from the Korean one. More on that later, but we’ll keep our eyes and ears peeled for new developments.