Ssangyong has had a colorful history, to put it lightly. In 1999, the Korean brand entered bankruptcy as its Chinese majority owner, SAIC Motor Company cut Ssangyong loose. Ssangyong made a frenzied attempt to cut its workforce down, and faced one of the worst labor strikes in the Korean auto industry’s history. In retaliation for the cuts, the workers of Ssangyong’s Pyongtaek production plant set fire to the plant, and later occupied it for two months. Riot police, including helicopter support, was called in eventually to clear the plant.
With Ssangyong in shambles, Indian automaker Mahindra & Mahindra bought a 70% stake in the company in 2011 and immediately went to work on labor issues. Since the acquisition, Ssangyong has not suffered any labor downtime and the once rioting workforce now appears to be diligently rebuilding the auto maker, one car at a time.
In 2013, Ssangyong returned and racked up its highest sales, with 145,649 cars sold last year. 81,679 of those sales were made in overseas markets; and a spokesman for Ssangyong confirmed to WardsAuto that the Korean Automaker is looking to expand its product to the U.S. market.
The spokesman confirmed to Wards that a portfolio for North America is being planned with a consultant to help find an approach to the U.S., with the key being a friendly brand name. Aside from the odd-sounding name (to American eyes and ears, at least), Ssangyong looks to leave behind the battle torn image of the past, and exude a quality product.
Ssangyong’s President and CEO Yoo-il Lee has set high goals for 2016, and the U.S. market is a must if they intend to meet them, with a target of 300,000 vehicles by 2016.
But that’s about where the announced plan stops. As mentioned, with last year’s sales hovering just below 150,000, the “Promise 2016” plan intends to double that in a scant two years. With no product ready for U.S. emissions and safety and no dealer network, it’s a lofty goal. US dealers are still wary after Mahindra’s ongoing failure to bring their diesel pick to the US by 2010, and we’ll be impressed if Ssangyong can enter the U.S. market by their 2016 sales goal.