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.)