Carmaker Ssangyong enters India, aims to make no. 2 export market

Wed Oct 17, 2012 4:41am EDT

* Ssangyong scaling up overseas for growth

* Mahindra India's biggest player in booming SUV market

* Rexton is Ssangyong's first vehicle in India

MUMBAI, Oct 17 (Reuters) - South Korean carmaker Ssangyong Motor Co Ltd wants to make India its second largest export market, by taking advantage of parent company Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd's dominance of the country's booming SUV sector.

India is an untapped market for Ssangyong, which counts Europe and Latin America as its two largest export destinations. The carmaker shipped two-thirds of its production in the last financial year, and is targeting emerging economies such as Russia and South Africa as well as India for its luxury SUVs.

"This is the best possible market for Ssangyong," said Yoo-Il Lee, Ssangyong's chief executive officer. "I am very confident that India will become Ssangyong's second-largest export market," he added, without providing details. The firm does not give a breakdown of its export markets by sales.

Ssangyong, which launched its first vehicle in the Indian market on Wednesday, will build the Rexton at Mahindra's factory in Pune, western India, avoiding costly import tariffs.

Ssangyong will sell its vehicles alongside Mahindra SUVs in the Indian carmaker's showrooms, but as the South Korean models are more expensive than the India ones, will not compete against them for market share.

Mahindra dominates India's increasingly crowded SUV market, where it sold four times as many of the vehicles than its nearest rival, Tata Motors Ltd, in the last fiscal year that ended in March.

Ssangyong is pushing into a sector where global motor firms are busily expanding. Ford Motor Co Said in January it would spend $142 million upgrading its Indian plant to build the EcoSport SUV, due for launch next year, and Renault SA launched its first India-specific SUV, the Duster, in June.

The South Korean firm, which was close to bankruptcy before Mahindra paid $460 million for a majority stake in March 2011, plans to bring more models to the country over the next few years, chairman Pawan Goenka said.

India's SUV market is growing rapidly as a result of a slew of new models, rising aspirations and purchasing power among drivers, and generous government subsidies on diesel fuel.

Sales of passenger utility vehicles were 56 percent higher in the first six months of the fiscal year that began in April from a year earlier, while sales of cars were down 0.3 percent, according to the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers.

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