Mahindra to sell S. Korean SUVs in India, Africa

India's Mahindra & Mahindra will sell Ssangyong Motor vehicles in markets including India and Africa in a bid to revitalise the troubled South Korean firm it bought last year, executives said Thursday.

Two sport utility vehicles, the Korando and Rexton, will be introduced to the Indian market, Mahindra Group managing director Anand Mahindra told a press conference at the Seoul Motor Show.

"Right now the (Indian) market is a very, very high-potential market for products of the kinds Ssangyong makes... people are ready to spend more for more sophisticated products," Mahindra said.

He said Mahindra, the largest SUV producer in India, also plans to use its sales network in Africa where it sold 9,500 cars last year to market Ssangyong's SUVs in "the next frontier of automobile growth".

"SUVs are perfectly suited for the terrain of Africa... the joint team of Ssangyong and Mahindra will make a strong impact," said Mahindra.

Ssangyong this month exited court-led bankruptcy protection in force since 2009, after Mahindra completed the takeover of a 70 percent stake for 522.5 billion won ($476.7 million).

The largest SUV producer in South Korea ran into trouble in 2008 as a slump in sales of SUVs dried up its cash reserves, leading to job cuts that sparked a violent strike that lasted for months.

Ssangyong said this month it would invest more than 240 billion won this year to develop new vehicles and build its brand with the new owner's backing.

The Pyeongtaek-based firm and Mahindra are working together to roll out electric cars within the next two years, company chief executive Lee Yoo-Il said.

The Indian conglomerate also plans to open a South Korean unit of its auto financing firm to help Ssangyong with the selling of their vehicles, said Ssangyong chairman Pawan Goenka.

Mahindra said his group is behind Ssangyong for the long term.

"We are proud investors of Ssangyong and we believe very firmly in Ssangyong's future," he said, when asked if his group was considering cutting its stake in the near future.

"We are committed therefore to the turnaround of the company's fortunes. This is going to be a long journey in which we intend to be long-term players."

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