Ssangyong UK hopes to complete its comeback by the end of next year with sales close to 1,000 vehicles and a 70-strong dealer network.

The South Korean company originally made its mark with the big Musso off-roader and the Jeep-style Korando. Just a couple of years ago it was bought out by Daewoo and it was downhill from then on as its new owner hit the financial buffers.

When General Motors bought many of Daewoo's operations last year, Ssangyong wasn't among them and it looked like the end.

But, even under the ownership of South Korean creditor banks, Ssangyong has struggled on and has even started to make a profit back home. Its 4x4 Rexton model has been back on sale in the UK since July through a new import operation.

Headed up by some of the team which ran the former Daewoo Cars Ltd, Ssangyong UK already has 36 dealers and has sold 130 cars to date. Sales and marketing director Tom Martin, who joined the team having once been in charge of Peugeot/Citroen's British dealer network, believes that it could be selling 1,200 cars a year by 2005.

Creditors of South Korean sport utility maker Ssangyong Motor on Tuesday recommended chemicals conglomerate China National Blue Star Group as the top bidder for a controlling stake in the SUV maker worth about $US620 million.

Martin said that while it was still up for sale, Ssangyong is a profitable company. In 2002, total vehicle production was 161,000 units but with only 12,277 sold outside South Korea. From 1987 until 2002 over 916,000 vehicles were manufactured of which 151,766 were exported.

He claimed that there is no shortage of dealers interested in taking on the franchise including those with Subaru/Isuzu, Daihatsu, Skoda and Suzuki franchises.

The Rexton five-door turbo diesel five-seater and petrol seven-seater is the only Ssangyong model currently available. The last Mussos and Korandos were sold with Daewoo badges. Martin said SYUK would like those customers back but was unable to take on the three-years' free servicing deals with which the cars were sold.

Martin said that SYUK would bring a diesel-engined large seven seat 4x4 MPV with luggage space to match to the UK later in 2004. Annual sales would be between 500 to 700 units a year.

He denied reports that it would import the Chairman, a Mercedes S-Class-derived executive car but added that SYUK has taken delivery of two sample Double Cab sports utility pick-ups for evaluation and could launch the model next year if market reaction was favourable.