Life has been hard for Korea’s No. 4 automaker SsangYong. It crashed during the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s and was scooped up by Daewoo – only for Daewoo to go spectacularly bust.
As SsangYong bought its independence from Daewoo in 2001, design director Ken Greenley developed a large minivan based on the Mercedes-derived platform used for the SsangYong Chairman sedan.
“While we were working on this, the government regulations on tax unexpectedly changed,” he recalls with a grin rarely seen when taxation is being discussed. “The regulations suddenly gave a zero tax rating to vehicles with 11 seats or more.”
So SsangYong’s team quickly added 140mm to the platform’s wheelbase and squared up the rear end styling to provide headroom for the fourth row of passengers in an unprecedented 2+3+3+3 seating layout. Eleven people in a car a little longer than a BMW 7 series might seem like overcrowding to Europeans but, says Greenley, it is perfectly acceptable in Korea. “It fits in with the social structure in Korea,” he says: “Whole extended families tend to go out at the same time.”
But for export SsangYong has decided seven seats are enough. That means Europe loses out on getting the ultimate soccer minivan – a vehicle capable of carrying the entire team.