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The History of Daewoo

The story of a much-hated South Korean badge-engineering company and how you may unknowlingly drive a Daewoo

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Daewoo Motor was founded in 1937 as National Motor, which became Saenara Motor in 1962. Saenara was purchased by Shinjin Industrial in 1965, which changed its name to Shinjin Motors after collaborating with Toyota. Shinjin began a joint venture with GM in 1972 under the name of GM Korea, which subsequently was renamed Saehan Motor. Daewoo Group purchased Saehan in 1982, changing their name to Daewoo Motor Co.

Daewoo Maepsy

Daewoo Maepsy

Their first product was the 1983 Daewoo Maepsy, which means "beautiful". It was based off of the Opel Kadett C, which was based off of the Isuzu Bellett Gemini. A pickup version called the Daewoo Max was also offered. The car received aesthetic updates for 1984, being renamed the Maepsy-Na. Because it had an imported engine, it was more expensive than the competition, but it was the only car in its class to offer an automatic transmission. The arrival of the newer, cheaper Hyundai Pony caused Daewoo's market share to drop.

Daewoo Royale

Daewoo Royale

A larger Royale was also available, based off of the Opel Rekord. It had similar styling to the Maepsy but was more luxurious. The top-level Imperial featured a vinyl roof, ABS, digital instrumentation, cruise control, automatic climate control, power windows, power locks, power steering, a trip computer, and leather upholstery.

The five-door hatchback was known as the Daewoo LeMans Penta5

The five-door hatchback was known as the Daewoo LeMans Penta5

The LeMans replaced the Maepsy in 1986, now based off of the Opel Kadett E. It came as a sedan, a three-door hatchback, or a five-door hatchback. A facelift arrived for 1992. The LeMans was sold across the world with many different names: Asüna GT, Asüna SE, Daewoo 1.5i, Daewoo Fantasy, Daewoo Pointer, Daewoo Racer, Guangtong GTQ5010X, Passport Optima, and Pontiac LeMans.

Daewoo, I hope

Daewoo, I hope

In 1990, Daewoo launched the Espero, a Bertone-designed notchback sedan that used the GM J platform. Launched in the UK in January 1995, it had a surprisingly high amount of features for the price and had a spacious trunk and cabin. Even better, it came with a standard 3 year/60,000 mile warranty that could be extended to 5 years/100,000 miles for just £350. It was found to be a decent vehicle, but depreciation was rapid, ABS repairs were very expensive, electrical issues were common, and replacement parts were scarce. "Espero" was also Spanish for "I hope"; I hope it doesn't break! Production ceased in 1997.

Daewoo Nexia

Daewoo Nexia

A second-generation LeMans arrived in 1994 and was sold in the UK as the Nexia in the same time frame as the Espero. Like the Espero, the Nexia had no-haggle pricing, great value, and a comprehensive warranty. However, the Nexia was still heavily based on the 1986 LeMans and had the same reliability and depreciation issues as the Espero.

Daewoo Arcadia

Daewoo Arcadia

Other 1990s Daewoos included the 1991-1997 Tico (a rebadged Suzuki Alto) and the 1994-1999 Arcadia (the replacement for the Royale, a rebadged Honda/Acura Legend).

In September 1997, Daewoo launched three new vehicles, none of which were badge-engineered or used platforms from other cars: the subcompact Lanos, compact Nubira, and midsize Leganza. The trio was available not only in the UK but also in America for the first time, starting for the 1998 model year in the UK and for the 1999 model year in the US.

A rare well-cared-for Lanos

A rare well-cared-for Lanos

The Lanos came as a sedan or a three-door hatchback in the US and UK, but the UK also got a five-door hatchback. Designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro, it was pleasant-looking and actually rather cute. Value was excellent, reliability was better than the Nexia, and handling was decent. However, refinement was poor, acceleration was slow and made worse if the A/C was on, and the five-speed transmission was rough. The interior was solidly built, but materials were awfully cheap. Also, the faulty ABS was still used.

Daewoo Leganza

Daewoo Leganza

The Leganza, available only as a sedan, was the best of the three, sitting between the compact and midsize classes. Also a Giugiaro design, it was an elegant car, though the grille was divisive. Equipment levels were impressive, interior quality was decent, and the rear seat and trunk were roomy. Leganzas were easy and secure to drive, with cushy ride quality, but it was no sports car and the powertrains weren't that great.

A 1999 Nubira

A 1999 Nubira

The Nubira, however, was horrific. Available as a sedan, a hatchback, or a wagon, it's styling was not Giugiaro and looked bland, with some oddly-sized elements. It was roomy enough and the ergonomics were good, but the interior was prone to squeaking, rattling, creaking, and even breaking. It had a smooth ride and okay handling, but the powertrains were lackluster. US models were prone to snapping timing belts, causing many owners to get rid of theirs prematurely. Less than 10,000 1999 Nubiras were sold in America. A refreshed model appeared in 2000 with improved styling and safety, increased interior room, and decreased NVH.

The Matiz, also a Giugiaro design

The Matiz, also a Giugiaro design

Fortunately, the 1998 Matiz city car was excellent, earning Best Small Car from Auto Express and Top Gear and Best Value from Top Gear. Unfortunately, the 1999-2001 Korando and Musso, rebadged SsangYong SUVs, were downright awful. The 2000 Tacuma MPV was good, but looked hideous.

In 1999, Daewoo Group had financial trouble and sold their automotive division to GM; Daewoo Motor became GM Daewoo in 2001. Early 2002 saw Daewoo's retreat from the US market; 58,624 Leganzas were sold, 57,957 Lanoses, and 52,780 Nubiras for a total of 169,379 cars.

A Suzuki Verona, one of less than 15,000 2004s.

A Suzuki Verona, one of less than 15,000 2004s.

In 2003, the Lanos was replaced by the Kalos, the Nubira was replaced with the Lacetti, and the Leganza was replaced with the Evanda. All three were engineered by GM Daewoo. Americans got the Kalos as the 2003-2011 Chevrolet Aveo and 2009 Pontiac G3, the Lacetti as the 2004-2008 Suzuki Forenza/Reno, and the Evanda as the 2004-2006 Suzuki Verona. All were mediocre improvements over the old, but were marred by terrible reliability. The Pontiac G3 and Suzuki Verona are quite rare, with just 6,237 G3s and 25,874 Veronas.

The G2X: a Daewoo you may actually want!

The G2X: a Daewoo you may actually want!

From 2005 onwards, Daewoos in Europe became Chevrolets; the Kalos was renamed the Aveo, though, and the 2007-2011 Tosca was a new model. The Daewoo name was only used in South Korea from then on. However, Daewoo still engineered several vehicles for GM until 2011, when the Daewoo brand name was discontinued and GM Daewoo became GM Korea. The 2009 Cruze, 2011 Spark, 2012 Sonic/Aveo, 2013 Malibu, 2011 Orlando, 2013 Trax, and 2007 Captiva were all GM Daewoos. Also, the Pontiac Solstice, Saturn Sky, and Opel GT were sold as the Daewoo G2X in South Korea. Here is a list of vehicles that share their platforms with Daewoo-badged cars released after 2005:

Daewoo Lacetti Premiere

Daewoo Lacetti Premiere

GM Delta II Platform: Daewoo Lacetti Premiere, Chevrolet Cruze, Holden Cruze, Opel Astra J, Buick Excelle XT, Chevrolet Volt, Chevrolet Orlando, Buick Verano, Opel Ampera, Opel Meriva B, Opel Zafira Tourer C, Cadillac ELR, Baojun 560, Opel Cascada, Buick Cascada, Holden Cascada, Chevrolet Cavalier (China, 2017-present).

Daewoo Matiz Creative

Daewoo Matiz Creative

GM Gamma II Platform: Daewoo Matiz Creative, Chevrolet Spark, Holden Barina Spark, Chevrolet Sail, Chevrolet Aveo, Chevrolet Sonic, Holden Barina, Chevrolet Cobalt, Opel Mokka, Buick Encore, Chevrolet Trax, Chevrolet Spin, Chevrolet Onix, Chevrolet Prisma, Opel Karl (Vauxhall Viva), Holden Spark.

Daewoo Winstorm (NOT Windstorm)

Daewoo Winstorm (NOT Windstorm)

GM Theta Platform: Daewoo Winstorm, Saturn Vue, Opel Antara, Chevrolet Captiva, GMC Terrain, Holden Captiva, Chevrolet Equinox, Pontiac Torrent, Suzuki XL7.

Now, Daewoo has been completely replaced by Chevrolet across the world and their cars are gradually disappearing. Due to their rapidly increasing rarity, I find it to be an exciting moment whenever I see one. I predict that someday they will be collectibles not because of their excellence but because of their famously negative reception. For example, the Edsel, the AMC Gremlin and Pacer, the Trabant, the Yugo, the Chevrolet Corvair, and many others have become collectible. Do you agree?

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