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The Carchive: ’97 Daewoo range.

Chris Haining November 3, 2017 Cars You Should Know, The Carchive 13 Comments

Last week’s raid of The Carchive was courtesy of General Motors in the mid-’70s, with the German Opel Manta. This week we’ve jumped forward a couple of decades, but we’re kind of keeping The General in mind, as you’ll soon see.

We’re off to South Korea to find out what Daewoo were up to in 1997. Actually, that’s a lie. We’re of to quaint old England, to find out exactly what Daewoo could offer during its fleeting stay in the UK car market.

All images can be enlarged (if you like that kind of thing)

“Daewoo are the only car company who can claim to have broken the mould when it comes to the way you buy and own a car”

This was the truth. In 1995, when the South Korean manufacturing giant first put down roots in the UK, it decided on a very noble, very earnest USP. From day one, Daewoo’s slogan was “a different kind of car company”, and what made it so different ought really to have spelt immediate and long-lasting success.

When you bought a Daewoo, you got three years warranty and three years maintenance thrown in with the deal, but perhaps the most notable Daewoo difference was its sales model. There were no franchised Daewoo dealerships, which meant there were no ‘dealer margins’ or ‘chassis profit retention’ targets for the salespeople. In fact, all of these were employed directly by the company, and were salaried rather than rewarded on commission. This meant no pestering sales calls, nobody falling over themselves to attack you with sales rhetoric as soon as you walked into the showroom. Fixed prices, you just choose what you want and buy it.

This sounds fantastic, and – for the first couple of years – Daewoo made a load of sales to people who just didn’t enjoy the whole frustrating process of buying a car. Setting the enterprise up this way made a lot of sense – as a new start-up on these shores, the company could do whatever it wanted to establish its name, just as long as they had the cashflow to support it. They ploughed millions into ‘Daewoo retail outlets’ in prime areas, typically among big box stores so you might pop out to buy a new TV, a sofa, something from IKEA and a car.

The only thing they needed to guarantee success was an appealing range of products.

So near, and yet so far.

“In creating the ideal compact car for the European driver we’ve worked with specialists from around the world”

The three cars in the ’97 Daewoo range were all-new, replacing the former Nexia (nee Pontiac LeMans – which itself was a recycled Vauxhall Astra / Opel Kadett) and the Espero, which was straight-up GM J-car under its rakish bodywork.

The Daewoo Lanos was the smallest offering in the ‘next generation’ range, and was a real mish-mash of technical and creative inputs. This included body styling by Giugiaro and structural design by Porsche. The engines, meanwhile, were based on GM ‘Family 1’ architecture. And that old Opel Kadett wasn’t forgotten, either – its suspension could still be found under the Lanos.

It was a reasonably attractive compact car to behold, but couldn’t even relate to its European (or Japanese) rivals when it came to interior finish or flair, while driving manners were the very definition of ‘passable’.

“The Nubira has been designed for your maximum safety and driving comfort”

The Nubira was arguably a less attractive car than the Lanos, but a little bigger and available in hatchback, saloon and estate formats. Styling was, again, Italian, but by I.DE.A this time, famed for the much underrated original Fiat Tipo, among things. As before, there was a large proportion of General Motors-derived tech under the skin, with family 1 and family 2 engines available.

Alas, it was dull as ditchwater to sit in, and wasn’t especially rewarding to drive, either, although the 132bhp 2.0-litre engine actually allowed a pretty reasonable turn of speed, reaching 60mph from rest in 9 seconds dead. This made it by far the quickest car to wear the chrome Daewoo moustache.

“Leganza is the flagship of our new range, and with good reason”

Once upon a time, this car showed real promise. Recognise the shape? Well, you might if, like me, you were raised on late ’80s car magazines and motorshow footage. The outline shape is, essentially, Giugiaro’s ‘Kensington’ Concept, which had been penned to serve as a Jaguar XJ40 replacement. This never came to be, though, so the design was squirreled away in the archive and latterly provided ‘off the shelf’ to Daewoo in a scaled-down form, to fulfil their need for a flagship. This became the Leganza.

Unfortunately, in practice, it didn’t really have anything to recommend itself by as a range-topping car. Engines were Holden-supplied D-Tec fours, of which the UK only got the 2.0-litre. And while that engine shifted the Nubira pretty rapidly, the heavier Leganza was rather less spritely at 10.2 seconds. Top CDX models were claimed as relatively generous with kit, but this came down mainly to interior furnishings such as plastic wood and a leather-bound steering wheel. It was pretty spacious, though – and in comparison with far superior cars of similar size and spec, it was way cheaper.

Ultimately, though, the gloss wore off and the products didn’t have the shine that Daewoo’s refreshing sales policies deserved. The Daewoo name was soon abandoned after its car business was, inevitably, bought out by General Motors in 2002, soon after which the Chevrolet bowtie would begin to appear on South Korean products in the UK, as evidenced by this slightly sickly brochure.

So. A different kind of car company. If only it sold a different kind of car.

(Images are of original manufacturer publicity material, photographed by me. Who knows where the copyright stands.)

  • duurtlang

    To be honest though, I preferred the earlier Daewoos. Mainly the exterior of the Espero.

    Chevrolet in Europe (2005-2014) is an interesting tale itself. They started with nothing but rebadged Daewoos but eventually sold their own cars as well. Like the Cruze, Trax and Aveo/Sonic. Chevy was discontinued as a mainstream brand in 2014.

    My take is that they (eventually) had decent but downmarket products (see: Cruze) sold in the same dealerships right next to mainstream vehicles like the Astra, which resulted in cannibalization. Cannibalization Chevrolet could never win, due to its lackluster products, poor name/image/Daewoo connection and prices that weren’t low enough.

    • Although, the Cruze, Trax, and Aveo/Sonic are all actually GMDAT (Daewoo) designs (well, in the case of the Cruze, kinda – the platform is shared with the Astra)…

      In the US market, Chevrolet and Buick (the closest analogue to Opel/Vauxhall) don’t share lots, so you’re not seeing a Cruze alongside a Verano (Astra sedan), a Trax alongside an Encore (Mokka), and Buick doesn’t have an Aveo/Sonic analogue, as that entire class is seen as too downmarket for that tier of brand in the US (the now dead Verano and the Encore are the smallest Buicks in the US).

    • Wholeheartedly agree. Much like previously respected hi-fi brand names applied to pacific-rim supermarket plasma TV sets, any positive association with the Chevrolet brand disappeared in much of Europe. All through cynical marketing.

    • crank_case

      What was kinda hilarious was the ill-judged ad campaign, at least here in Ireland, featuring generic American like a picture of an American Football player with the phrase “Born Tough” underneath to sell a Lacetti/Cruze. A bit like how German discount supermarket burgers are sold as “American Style” with a big stars and stripes on the package. No-ones fooled

  • Citric

    I actually saw a Daewoo Lanos the other day. It was bright green and I think the design is kinda handsome in a 90s way. That I have seen one actually moving under its own power once is also relevant.

  • Fixed price sales, salaried sales people and top notch service? Sounds familiar, even down to the slogan.

    https://i0.wp.com/www.retroist.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/saturn.jpg

    At least Saturn had a modestly appealing product.

    In the US, when GM bought Daewoo, my understanding is that they didn’t buy the US arm of the company. So the US division was immediately without cars or access to service parts. A friend who worked at a dealership with a Daewoo franchise couldn’t get parts to cover warranty repairs on brand new cars.

  • crank_case

    My mum had a Lame-os. I used it to “yump” over humpback bridges and slide around in the snow, but people were prepared to pay real money for it used because of the perception that it was “Japanese”

    Ah Daewoo, the poor mans Isuzu.

  • 353

    Daewoo Lanos. My ’98 is still going well. Literally -every day.

    • Oh, they’re reliable, nicely built cars. Just almost entirely free of desirability in the showroom.

      • outback_ute

        Being cheap is not undesirable in the showroom!

        I’d follow the consensus here, a friend bought one for his company runabout, I think he had it for more than a decade with no real issues. Then again using well proven mechanicals etc that should be the case but it is by no means guaranteed.

  • fhrblig

    I liked the Nubira hatch. It was only sold here for one model year, but I liked the way it looked. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/09a42a55da073b8dcab61721683b222e330c40f0a2823d839d755936926318f5.jpg

  • JayP

    Italdesign makes up for a ton. Great designs.

  • cap’n fast

    anybody know if they ever made a hatch coupe???