The Truth About Cars » daewoo http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 27 Aug 2015 22:00:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.4 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars » daewoo http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com A Different Perspective On The DaimlerChrysler Merger http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/different-perspective-daimlerchrysler-merger/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/different-perspective-daimlerchrysler-merger/#comments Tue, 09 Jun 2015 21:00:42 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=994922 My 25-plus years as a Big Time Auto Industry Executive afforded me many memorable moments. It would be difficult to single out one example, but I may be the only person on earth who has shaken hands with both Soichiro Honda and Derek Kreindler. As for the low point of my career, there is no contest: the morning of May […]

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DC Hoods Courtesy cnbc.com

My 25-plus years as a Big Time Auto Industry Executive afforded me many memorable moments. It would be difficult to single out one example, but I may be the only person on earth who has shaken hands with both Soichiro Honda and Derek Kreindler.

As for the low point of my career, there is no contest: the morning of May 7, 1998, four months after I joined Mercedes-Benz Credit Corporation. That was the day it was announced Daimler-Benz had merged with the Chrysler Corporation.

I’ll never forget watching the news that morning, as Daimler CEO Jurgen Schrempp and Chrysler CEO Bob Eaton were all smiles during their press conference, deeming the alliance a “marriage from Heaven.” I was slack-jawed. I was dumbfounded. I was the RCA Victor dog with my head cocked quizzically at the television set.

I, also, was not alone. There were reports of Mercedes-Benz USA executives crying in the halls that morning. How could we do this? Didn’t we learn anything from our previous tie-up with Studebaker?

Much would be written in the following years about the culture clash between the two companies and how it contributed to their demerger in 2007. The press gleefully wrote about how the “lean and mean Chrysler” was at odds with the “slow-moving, bureaucratic Benz.” When it came to the resultant hookup between Mercedes-Benz Credit Corporation and Chrysler Financial, those roles were reversed.

While it would be several years before Schrempp would admit the alliance was not a merger but in reality a takeover of Chrysler by Daimler, Chrysler Financial (CF) was in charge of Mercedes-Benz Credit Corporation (MBCC) from day one on the U.S. financial side. On the surface this made sense as CF serviced ten times the number of dealers and employed around eleven times the number of people than did MBCC.

The two banks became DaimlerChrysler Services North America and we would move our U.S headquarters from Atlanta to CF’s home, the decrepit former American Motors building in Detroit, while construction started on a permanent facility. Thus, the only American employees to truly merge and work side by side in America were us financial folks. The respective auto sales and distribution arms in Montvale, NJ and Detroit probably never even spoke.

I was hired by a year-old division of MBCC called debis Affinity, named after the worldwide financial arm of Mercedes-Benz, Daimler-Benz InterServices AG or debis. Located in the MBCC customer service and remarketing facility in Fort Worth, TX, our mission was to provide retail loans and leases to customers of non-Mercedes dealers as well as floor plan and capital loans to the retailers themselves.

DC merger signing courtesy AP

“Jurgen, did I tell you about the millions you are about to lose on off-lease Grand Cherokees?”

Starting with a clean sheet of paper, we developed a corporate culture of transparency and employee empowerment. An example of this culture occurred each morning at 9 a.m. when we would turn off the phones and gather together in a “huddle” to review the previous day’s business news and talk strategy. These lighthearted meetings would be led each morning by a different team member. We were completely transparent with our monthly profit numbers. If they were published on a day that an entry level employee led the huddle, he or she would present the numbers to the group.

Chrysler folks thought our culture and huddle were hokey, but it worked: we built a loyal, tight-knit group of employees. I worked in field sales at American Honda during the go-go ’80s and ’90s; working at debis was more fun.

Thanks to our excellent service levels and a field sales staff heavy with former retail car people, we grew quickly, signing up retailers representing all franchises. We were especially welcomed by Chrysler dealers who were not shy to express their disgust with CF’s inconsistent credit buying practices, their jumping in and out of leasing, and their overall poor dealer support.

Our philosophies could not have been more different from those at CF. At MBCC and debis we considered the dealers to be our partners; CF loathed their dealer body. To be fair, at any one time probably 15 percent of Chrysler dealers were on the verge of going out of business, while another 15 percent were dedicated to stealing as much money as possible from CF and from Chrysler. Dealers falsifying customer information on credit applications to gain loan or lease approvals occurred far more often with Chrysler than Mercedes-Benz retailers.

2000DaewooLeganza courtesy chicagoautoshow.com

Leganza! Mercedes-Benz Credit’s debis Division provided financing for U. S. Daweoo customers.

The majority of CF employees we met were motivated and as passionate about the Chrysler brand as we were about Mercedes-Benz. The problem was their layers of bureaucracy prevented any task from being accomplished on a timely basis. In contrast, we were lean enough to operate on dealer and customer time – in other words, “right now.”

A perfect example was CF’s remarketing processes for capturing and disposing of off-lease vehicles. MBCC was recognized as having the best practices in the industry – dealer and customer friendly – while maximizing returns at auction. MBCC had one centralized office for remarketing; CF passed off the responsibility to its dozens of regional sales offices. We quickly learned despite all their people assigned to CF remarketing, many were not contacting clients to arrange their vehicles return, thus, customers were happily driving for free for months after their leases were due, assuring the vehicles would be returned at far below residual value. The concept of pitching off-lease clients to buy another Chrysler product was not on their radar at all.

It was quickly decided that the MBCC remarketing department would take over CF remarketing. Our first step was to find these thousands units missing in the CF bureaucracy. Time was ticking as CF was facing two hundred thousand Grand Cherokees coming off leases with payments as low as $199/month that were about to hit the auctions. The potential residual losses were staggering. The losses would end up averaging over $2,500 per unit. We always wondered if Daimler was informed of the situation during merger negotiations.

Infiniti dumped Nissan Motor Acceptance for debis to provide leases for their customers.

Infiniti dumped Nissan Acceptance for debis to provide leases for their customers.

In 1999, debis shocked the industry when we were chosen by Japanese luxury automaker Infiniti to provide factory subvented leases for their customers in their Western and Central Regions. Infiniti’s captive finance arm, Nissan Motor Acceptance Corporation, was out of money and the bank’s dealer satisfaction rankings were even lower than those of Chrysler Financial. Infiniti also admitted that they did not have the channels to dispose of off-lease vehicles.

On the surface this may appear to be Mercedes-Benz helping a competitor’s sales but it is actually just the opposite. The customer had already chosen an Infiniti by the time we were involved. We would profit on the leases as opposed to Nissan capturing that money. We’d also have control of that customer at lease end, with the hopes that their great experience with us might lead them to buy a Mercedes-Benz product next time. At one point, debis was also the leading lessor of Lexus RX300s in several markets on the East Coast.

Four outlying automakers also chose debis to serve as their captive lender, all drawn in by the prestige of being associated with the three-pointed star:

Daewoo: The Korean automaker may have built crappy cars, but their retail paper performed great. The Daewoo people also were by far the easiest to work with among all of our OEM relationships.

Lamborghini: We had the pleasure of working with one of the great automotive crooks of our era, North American Lamborghini distributor Vic Keuylian, who went from hanging with Hollywood celebrities to losing the distributorship to a guilty plea for wire fraud for selling $12M worth of Lamborghinis and stiffing Volkswagen Credit on them. I recall we did some Lambo leases for actor Nicolas Cage.

Grand+Opening+Lamborghini+Calabasas+Arrivals+4LgOcYOPgsEl Courtesy zimbio.com

debis client and former Lamborghini distributor Vic Keuylian with actress Kristen Bell.

Panoz: I am not sure if we actually ever financed a single one of their sports cars but we did get to visit their Georgia headquarters and drive some of their vehicles at Road Atlanta – so the relationship was worth it.

Lotus: I do not think we ended up doing much business with this brand either, but they were also located in Atlanta so we could justify our boondoggles to Panoz by visiting them.

In three years, debis had become wildly successful. Besides the OEM accounts, we had signed up 1,600 dealers and were close to overtaking Chase in several markets as the top non-captive automotive lender.

In early 2000, our managing director was tapped to develop DaimlerChrysler’s online auto financing site. He was replaced by a Chrysler “lifer” who was openly disdainful of debis. His actions verified what was long rumored to be true: CF senior managers only communicated to employees one band level below them and all other workers were not to approach them. I was marketing manager at the time and don’t recall ever having a conversation with the man. Our independence and our unique culture began to slip away.

DC Benz sign Courtesy 2.bp.blogspot.com

Soon after, rumors began to swirl that debis was going to be disbanded. When the COO of DaimlerChrysler Financial, a long-time CF man, assured us this was not the case, we figured we we were toast. We were correct: Chrysler bombed debis at dawn on December 7 – Pearl Harbor Day – in 2000. The reason given for our closing was due to the competitive nature of the non-captive lending business as well as duplication of efforts with Chrysler dealers. In my opinion, the truth was that Chrysler Financial hated our guts due to their brand partner being taken over by Daimler, they were tired of hearing from Chrysler dealers about our superlative service levels, and they simply could not understand the empowering (and profitable) debis culture. The news of our shutting down made the front page of Automotive News.

debis folks were devastated – but there was a bright side: to the company’s credit, all 64 debis employees were offered positions within the company, the majority on the Chrysler side, a few on the Mercedes-Benz side.

In 2007, the crazies at Cerberus bought Chrysler from us (during a recession!). We had paid $35 billion for Chrysler and sold them for $8 billion. I likened the loss to the two-year residual value of a Chrysler Pacifica minivan. MBCC was quickly reborn as Mercedes-Benz Financial Services (MBFS). The Chrysler financing arm also became part of Cerberus and would eventually be bought by Canada’s TD Bank in 2011.

MBFS Logo Courtesy linkedin

In the end, the damage done was the value of the millions of wasted man hours learning Chrysler’s systems and processes we could have dedicated to improving our products and services for Mercedes-Benz customers and dealers. The amount of money spent to build new Detroit and Fort Worth facilities for the merger and a second set for the demerger was staggering.

To be fair, a lot of good did come out of the merger on the financial services side. Thanks to Chrysler’s powerful human resources department, our benefits were far better than before the alliance. MBFS also became a much more diversified workplace thanks to Chrysler’s influence. Some of the talented leaders of the current MBFS came from Chrysler, most being managers who were considered “rebels” on the domestic side. The MBFS headquarters remained in Detroit where we were able to draw from the city’s deep, laid-off automotive talent pool for years to come.

The debate will rage on as to whether Daimler-Benz nearly killed the Chrysler Corporation, but in one small corner of their financial services division it was Chrysler who dealt the deathblow to a vibrant and vital Mercedes-Benz operation.

Chronicling this story has made me decide to amend my opening statement: the day in May 2007 when the DaimlerChrysler demerger became official, and I was safely on the Mercedes-Benz Financial Services side, was the single best moment of my automotive career.

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Vellum Venom Vignette: The Brazil Vacation, Part II http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/01/vellum-venom-vignette-brazil-vacation-part-ii/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/01/vellum-venom-vignette-brazil-vacation-part-ii/#comments Fri, 23 Jan 2015 15:00:41 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=987546   Aside from the car-less world of cruise/train travel, my post-CCS Design vacations involve seeing an American on the road only to feel their styling and (more importantly) proportioning are sleeker and prettier. Douchey perhaps, but it’s my benign contribution to American Exceptionalism. Even if this “proper” Chevy is a German Opel (sold alongside many a Korean Daewoo) introduced in […]

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A Captiva audience?

Aside from the car-less world of cruise/train travel, my post-CCS Design vacations involve seeing an American on the road only to feel their styling and (more importantly) proportioning are sleeker and prettier. Douchey perhaps, but it’s my benign contribution to American Exceptionalism.

Even if this “proper” Chevy is a German Opel (sold alongside many a Korean Daewoo) introduced in Frankfurt as the Antara GTC.  Harley Earl may spin in his perfectly-proportioned grave…but I digress.

crossport6

Few Americans shall admit a speck of admiration for the Chevrolet Captiva SUV, but the similarly-Korean Cruze is a respectable machine to most.  Well, colossal DLO fail at both corners notwithstanding. No matter, its suitably upscale: Chevrolet Brasil offers it as their most premium sedan offering. (At R$75,020)

Strangely, the Cruze 5-door hatch is cheaper (R$71,860) than the sedan: usually it’s the other way in the US. Known as the Cross Sport 6, the Cruze Hatchback looks the business against the usual Brazilian subcompact. Here’s one driving past the scenic Vista Chinesa.

onyx

While I have little complimentary to say of Chevrolet’s split plane grille, this Chevrolet Onix wears the face quite well.  Sure, the upper half needs to grow a good 1-2″ to meet the hood’s cut-line. Or better still, drop the cut-line instead. But the look is catchy, nicely proportioned on this small canvas.

Chevrolet Brasil made a fetching machine, but this white one in Leblon was kinda rare. And that’s the problem:

taxi

(photo courtesy: www.simcauto.com.br)

Chevys, at least in Rio, are heavy in fleet distributions.  Rio is nearly as taxi-centric as Manhattan, but the market wasn’t dominated by something Crown Victoria-esque. There’s Renault, Fiat and Citroen hacks too, so perhaps the Bowtie-branded Daewoos sporting that unique yellow/blue stripe paint scheme are a red herring.

And perhaps there’s no such thing as American Exceptionalism in car design. Not anymore, at least.

Thank you for reading, I hope you have a lovely weekend.

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Junkyard Find: 1988 Pontiac LeMans http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/11/junkyard-find-1988-pontiac-lemans-2/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/11/junkyard-find-1988-pontiac-lemans-2/#comments Thu, 20 Nov 2014 14:00:51 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=946817 Back when I saw this red ’88 LeMans at a California wrecking yard last year, I figured that would be the last Pontiac-badged Daewoo LeMans I’d ever see in a self-service wrecking yard. After all, these things sold poorly, were built like crap, and mostly lasted about five years before being stuffed into the nearest […]

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09 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinBack when I saw this red ’88 LeMans at a California wrecking yard last year, I figured that would be the last Pontiac-badged Daewoo LeMans I’d ever see in a self-service wrecking yard. After all, these things sold poorly, were built like crap, and mostly lasted about five years before being stuffed into the nearest car shredder. But no, here’s another example that I saw in Denver a couple of weeks ago.
17 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThis won-pinching Korean managed over 150,000 miles before expiring, which is pretty impressive.
06 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinIt’s no ’64 Catalina, that’s for sure.
16 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinStripes!
10 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThere can’t be many of these hubcaps left in the universe.

01 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 16 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 17 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 18 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 19 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin

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Review: 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/review-2014-chevrolet-spark-ev-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/review-2014-chevrolet-spark-ev-with-video/#comments Tue, 28 Jan 2014 14:00:38 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=705962 Outside North America, this little blue pill of an A-segment car is known as the Daewoo Matiz Creative. It may look an obsolete computer peripheral (or a pregnant roller skate), but GM claims that the Chevrolet Spark has more torque than a Ferrari 458 Italia. As a self-described technology lover, and card-carrying resident of the […]

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2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior

Outside North America, this little blue pill of an A-segment car is known as the Daewoo Matiz Creative. It may look an obsolete computer peripheral (or a pregnant roller skate), but GM claims that the Chevrolet Spark has more torque than a Ferrari 458 Italia. As a self-described technology lover, and card-carrying resident of the Left Coast, I had to check it out.

 

Click here to view the embedded video.

The Spark EV starts its life in Changwon, South Korea where gasoline and electric sparks are built by GM Korea, which was once known as Daewoo. But the heart of the Spark comes from America. GM is building the permanent magnet motors in Maryland, and instead of LG batteries made in Korea (like the Volt) GM is using American-made batteries courtesy of B456 (formerly A123. I’m not making this up). For reasons we don’t understand, GM isn’t “doing a CODA” and shipping cars sans-drivetran to America for assembly. The plant in Maryland ships the batteries and drivetrain to Korea, GM Korea inserts it in the car and ships the completed unit back to the USA.

The Spark EV exists because of my home state of California. The California Air Resources Board has mandated that Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Ford, GM and Chrysler make a total of 7,500 zero emissions vehicles available for sale by 2014 and 25,000 by 2017. By 2025, this number is expected to rise tenfold.

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-006

Exterior

Overall length slots the Chevy between the two-door Fiat 500e and the four-door Honda Fit EV but the small Chevy is narrower than both by a decent amount. Like the Fiat and other small cars, there’s something “cartoonish” about the Spark that is endearing. It’s all about proportions. The headlamps, tail lamps and grille are all fairly standard in size, but they are large in relation to the overall vehicle. The Spark isn’t alone in this, the same thing can be said of the Mini Cooper, Fiat 500 and Fiat 500L.

Because small cars tend to value practicality in design, the Spark has a tall roofline and the wheels have been pushed as close to the four corners as possible. This mechanical necessity pays dividends in handling and interior space but causes the Spark to look unusually tall when viewed head-on.

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-005

Interior

As with the gasoline version, the front seats are flat, firmly padded and offer little lumbar support. The hard plastics on the doors make for an uncomfortable place to rest your elbow, but there is a padded armrest in the center for the driver only. This isn’t unusual for compact cars, but electrification makes for strange bedfellows and the Leaf, Focus EV and Fiat 500e are direct competition that all offer more driver and passenger comfort.

Because of the Spark’s narrow width, the Chevy is a strict four-seater putting it on par with the 500e but one passenger behind the Fit, Leaf and Focus. It was surprisingly easy to put four tall adults in the Spark, a task that is more difficult in the considerably larger Focus because of its sloping roof-line. Still, passengers will be more comfortable in the Honda Fit which offers a bit more room for four, seating for five and more headroom all the way around. Despite the Leaf’s rear seat numbers being average, because of the way the seating position in the Leaf most people will find the Nissan roomier.

As with most gas to EV conversions, the Spark loses a bit of cargo volume in the process dropping 2 cubes to 9.6 cubic feet of cargo space. That’s slightly larger than the 500e, but a long way from the Leaf’s spacious 24 cubic foot booty. Unlike the Fiat 500e however, GM chose not sacrifice passenger footwell space for battery storage.

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV MyLink-001

Infotainment

All Spark EVs get the same touchscreen head unit that is optional in the gasoline car. The system’s layout is simple, attractive and intuitive. Along the bottom of the screen sits a row of touch buttons for power, volume and a home button. After a week with Chevy’s entry-level system I was left wondering why every GM car can’t have this software. The system isn’t the height of modernity compared to uConnect or SYNC. It does not offer integrated voice commands, integrated navigation software or snazzy animations. This system’s claim to fame is in its simplicity and its integration with your smartphone.

Once you have an Android or iPhone paired with MyLink you can voice command your phone, your tunes, and anything on your device with the voice command button on the steering wheel. This means the mobile services provided my MyLink are limited to the app selection on your device. GM has taken another step that other manufacturers would do well to copy: integrated smartphone navigation. For $5 you can download the BringGo navigation app to your smartphone and the MyLink system will use the app as the processing engine and the car’s display as the user interface. This gives you a large, bright map with controls that look like a standard integrated navigation system coupled with the ability to pre-program addresses using the app before you get into the car.

In the Spark EV the MyLink system also handles vehicle charging control. You can choose to charge immediately, at a specific time, or you can program your electrical rates into the system and have the car charge when it is most economical. We of course get the typical power flow meter which is getting a little silly in the 21st century and a display that shows what percentage of your battery was used for driving, cabin heating/cooling and battery conditioning. Driving your Spark, or any EV, in a “polar vortex” will reduce battery life due to both cabin heating and battery heating.
2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Drivetrain

Drivetrain

As with most EVs on the road power is delivered by a 3-phase AC motor connected to a fixed-speed reduction gear. EV’s don’t have a transmission in the traditional sense in order to reduce weight. If you want to go in reverse you spin the motor backwards and if you need neutral you simply disconnect the motor from the electrical path. Power output is rated at 140 horsepower and torque comes in at a whopping 400 lb-ft. (Most EV makers choose to electronically limit torque to reduce torque steer and improve battery life.)

Power is supplied by a 560lb, 21.3 kWh lithium battery pack located where the gas tank is in the gasoline Spark. As with the Chevy Volt, GM is taking the cautious path to battery preservation equipping the pack with an active heating and cooling system. That’s a stark contrast to the Nissan Leaf which uses a passive cooling system. Thanks to the lightest curb weight in the group (2,989lbs), the Spark scores 82 miles of EPA range and the highest efficiency rating of any EV to date. Depending on the weight of my right foot, my real world range varied from 70-100 miles.

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Charging Port

For any battery, heat is the enemy. Especially when charging or discharging rapidly or when charging in hot desert climates. As a result I would anticipate that all things being equal, the Spark, 500e and Focus should suffer less capacity loss and battery degradation over time than the passively cooled Nissan Leaf.

The big news for 2014 is the world’s first implementation of the new SAE DC fast charging connector. I’m a bit torn on this twist in EV development. While I agree that the DC “combo connector” is more logical and compact than the competing CHAdeMO connector found on the Nissan Leaf and most EVs in Japan, there are already several hundred CHAdeMO stations in the USA and right now there is one SAE station. I’m told there is unlikely to be an adapter so this makes three charging standards on offer in the USA. One for Nissan and Mitsubishi, one for Tesla and one for GM and BMW (the i3 will use it as well.)

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Wheels

Drive

The biggest thing people forget about an EV isn’t charging related, it’s heat related. When you want to heat the cabin in a gasoline car you are using “waste” energy to do it. If you didn’t have the heater on, that heat would just end up dissipating via the engine’s radiator. Electric cars produce little heat when running and rely on resistive heating elements to heat the cabin and an electric air conditioning to cool the cabin. Heat pumps would be more efficient because they “move” heat rather than “creating” heat but so far the Nissan Leaf (SV and higher) are the only production cars to adopt this tech. In 50 degree weather on a 60 mile journey nearly 15% of the energy consumed went into heating the Spark’s cabin, while on my way home when it was 80 degrees only 8% of the energy was used to cool the cabin.

Thanks to a better weight balance vs the gasoline model and staggered tires, 185/55 front 195/55 rear, the Spark handles surprisingly well. Many have posited that this is simply a band-aid measure due to the weight shift in the car but all sources point to the Spark EV still being heavier in the front. This means the tire selection was likely done for handling reasons, which makes sense because the Spark beats the 500e in fun-to-corner metrics. The extra weight has also improved the ride in the small hatchback which, although still choppy on the freeway like many small hatches, it much smoother in EV trim. Steering is numb but accurate, a common complaint with EVs.

With 140 horsepower and 400lb0ft of twist routed through the front wheels, the Spark is probably the 2014 torque steer king. Is that bad? Not in my book. I found the effect amusing and perhaps even a challenge to control on winding mountain roads. The competition limits their torque output to reduce torque steer but in doing so they reduce the fun-factor as well as performance, something that really shows in the Spark’s 7.08 second run to 60, notably faster than the competition.

When it is time to stop the Spark comes up short. Stopping distances and fade aren’t the issue, it’s feel. The brake pedal is softer than average and the transition between regenerative and friction braking is probably the poorest, excluding the current generation Honda Civic Hybrid. When the system is entirely in friction braking mode (if the battery is full and you are going down hill) the brakes get even more vague, requiring more travel than when the system is regenerating to get the same effect.

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-010

Pricing

At $26,685, the least expensive EV on the market excluding the Mitsubishi i-MiEV. For $27,010 the 2LT trim swaps cloth seats for “leatherette” and adds a leather wrapped steering wheel. That’s about the fastest and cheapest model walk in the industry. GM tells us that the DC quick charge port is an independent $750 option and it cannot be retrofitted to a Spark shipped without it. The Spark undercuts Nissan’s Leaf by nearly $2,000 and the Fiat by more than $5,000. While I might argue that the Nissan Leaf is more practical than the Spark, GM’s aggressive pricing screams value at every turn, especially if you lease. At the time of our loan GM was offering a $199 lease deal on the Spark with $1,000 down plus the usual miscellaneous fees.

The Spark’s main sales proposition for many is as a commuter car. When you factor in everything the Spark is the cheapest way to drive in California’s carpool lanes (you know, other than actually carpooling.) Despite not being less attractive than a Fiat 500e, less practical than a Nissan Leaf and less luxurious than a Focus EV, I’d probably pick the Spark.

 

GM provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.72 Seconds

0-60: 7.08 Seconds

 1/4 Mile: 15.78 Seconds @ 86 MPH

Average observed economy: 4.3 miles/kWh

Sound level at 50 MPH: 70dB

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Charging Port 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Drivetrain 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Drivetrain-001 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-001 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-002 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-003 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-004 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-005 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-006 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-007 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-008 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-009 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-010 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-001 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-002 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-003 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-004 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-005 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-006 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-007 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-008 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV LCD Gauge Cluster 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV MyLink 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV MyLink-001 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Wheels

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Vellum Venom Vignette: Ovoid Fixation Edition? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/vellum-venom-vignette-ovoid-fixation-edition/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/vellum-venom-vignette-ovoid-fixation-edition/#comments Tue, 24 Dec 2013 13:00:46 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=686786 Ryan writes: OK, so the granddaddy of oval car logos must be the Ford blue oval, but they sure do have a lot of imitators. So, how about a Vellum Venom on Comparative Oval Logos in the Automotive Industry? Or if you don’t like this pitch, maybe put Sanjeev on it. I bet he’d do […]

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Ryan writes:

OK, so the granddaddy of oval car logos must be the Ford blue oval, but they sure do have a lot of imitators. So, how about a Vellum Venom on Comparative Oval Logos in the Automotive Industry? Or if you don’t like this pitch, maybe put Sanjeev on it. I bet he’d do this article.

Here’s the logos I can think of right now, all horizontal ovals:

  • Ford
  • Subaru
  • Kia
  • Hyundai
  • Toyota (the modern tri-oval T logo)
  • Daewoo
  • Infiniti
  • Scion
  • (Don’t forget Lexus and Land Rover – SM)

An oval (technically these logos are all ellipse-shaped, but nobody calls it the “blue ellipse”) is a pretty basic shape, but when I think of other corporate logos, I don’t see a lot of horizontal ovals (round logos? Yes, both in and out of the car industry). Even the proportions of these logos all seem pretty close (though Ford looks like the widest of the bunch).

Sajeev answers:

That Sanjeev jerk didn’t spend a year at The College of Creative Studies honing his immense drawing skills into an…ummm…dammit, he gets no airtime in this series!

Now, you have a very valid point: corporations be rippin’ off the Ford logo like whoa.

But it’s wiser to go Ford Oval instead of something potentially displeasing to the buying public, even though I can’t stand the copycat-ism either. Yet I found myself “under the influence” in CCS’ design studios.  The worst was a front fascia I made similar to a GEN I Prius, with a more exaggerated snout.  It was the first rendering of my second semester at CCS. And the result? Scorn? Shame and ostracization?

Nope.  People were kinda quiet, instead of openly critical.  Others, those I considered friends, said, “Whatever you did over Christmas break, it’s working! You are really getting the hang of it now!” Even my normally harsh teacher mentioned my progress.

It was bittersweet, as this wasn’t my best work. Even if it was…

So what’s the problem?  Design studios are all about concept inbreeding: if GM (Harley Earl, Bill Mitchell) does it, why not do the same as their cross-town rival? Fame and fortune await!  Or maybe we’ll hire their design honcho for ourselves (KIA), reaping even more fortune! As Grandmaster Flash said in the link above:

“Cause it’s all about the Money, ain’t a damn thing Funny.

You got to have a con in this land of Milk and Honey.”

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Junkyard Find: 1988 Pontiac LeMans http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/junkyard-find-1988-pontiac-lemans/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/junkyard-find-1988-pontiac-lemans/#comments Sat, 09 Nov 2013 14:00:28 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=646082 We haven’t seen many Daewoo products in this series— in fact, just this ’00 Nubira wagon has made the cut, out of all the expired Lanoses and Leganzas I see— but there was a time when The General saw fit to sell a Pontiac-badged, Opel-based Daewoo LeMans next to its Chevrolet-badged Suzuki Cultus and Geo-badged […]

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01 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinWe haven’t seen many Daewoo products in this series— in fact, just this ’00 Nubira wagon has made the cut, out of all the expired Lanoses and Leganzas I see— but there was a time when The General saw fit to sell a Pontiac-badged, Opel-based Daewoo LeMans next to its Chevrolet-badged Suzuki Cultus and Geo-badged Toyota Sprinter and Isuzu Gemini. The 1988-93 Pontiac LeMans never was a common sight on American roads, and its iffy reliability and plummeting resale value sent most of them onward via the Great Steel Factory In the Sky by the late 1990s. Still, someone has to win the lottery, and some Daewoontiacs have to survive on the street for as long as Grandpa’s Plymouth Valiant hung on to life. Here’s a miracle LeMans I found at a California self-serve wrecking yard a few weeks back.

GM’s marketers did their best to spin the LeMans as a sexy-yet-sensible ride for big-haired 80s women with tiny bank balances, but the Ford-badged Kia Pride and the first-gen Hyundai Excel proved far more popular.
16 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThis one made it to just 127,990 miles, which suggests either long-term inactivity or a meticulous drive-only-to-church-on-Sunday long-term owner.
18 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinHere’s an engine that ought to provide good trivia-question material at your next Pontiac car show: the Daewoo G16SF.
20 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinOverhead cam! The future, it has arrived!
12 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinMore or less your standard-issue late-80s cheapskatemobile interior.
07 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinHow many of these things are left today?


The German-market Opel Kadett GSi version of this car got a sportier-looking ad campaign to go with its allegedly high-performance option package; the US-market got a GSE version with a whopping 96 horses, starting in the 1989 model year.

01 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 16 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 17 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 18 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 19 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 20 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 21 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin

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Rental Car Review: My Wisconsin Week With a 2012 Chevrolet Sonic LT http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/rental-car-review-my-wisconsin-week-with-a-2012-chevrolet-sonic-lt/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/rental-car-review-my-wisconsin-week-with-a-2012-chevrolet-sonic-lt/#comments Mon, 21 Oct 2013 13:00:17 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=628786 In my travels as Chief Justice of the 24 Hours of LeMons Supreme Court, I spend a lot of time in bottom-end rental cars. Sometimes I get press cars and write about them on these trips, but that’s usually more of a hassle than it’s worth. For about 15 four-day race weekends a year (plus […]

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27 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinIn my travels as Chief Justice of the 24 Hours of LeMons Supreme Court, I spend a lot of time in bottom-end rental cars. Sometimes I get press cars and write about them on these trips, but that’s usually more of a hassle than it’s worth. For about 15 four-day race weekends a year (plus a few vacation trips here and there) I’m in a Dodge Avenger, Nissan Altima, Ford Focus, or other rental-fleet favorite. 2013 is a year of Wisconsin visits for me; first, I went to my wife’s Milwaukee high-school reunion with a ’13 Jaguar XJL Portfolio, then I spent nine days in Door County with a rental ’12 Sonic, and next month I’ll be at the Chubba Cheddar Enduro at Road America with a ’14 Mitubishi Evo. The Sonic made an unexpectedly strong impression on me in August, so let’s see what life with Chevy’s little Daewoo is like.
00 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinWhen we arrived at the Milwaukee airport, the rental-car agency had just one car available in the class I’d reserved: a 2012 Chevy Sonic with more than 25,000 miles on the clock. Twenty-five thousand miles, on a rental car! Rental-car miles are like dog years, with one rental mile roughly equivalent to seven owned miles, and I had never before seen a rental car (in the United States) with more than 15,000 miles under its belt. I figured I’d be getting a sneak preview of what a Sonic with 175,000 hard miles would be like in the year 2025— an opportunity, not a disappointment, for the serious automotive journalist.
08 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinMinutes after leaving the airport, I spotted a good-sized car show, complete with live music, so I figured I’d get right into Upper Midwest car culture.
31 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinIn a way, trips to the Upper Midwest serve as reminders of my cultural roots; though I spent most of my childhood in California, I spent my first six years in Minneapolis. Here we see the Martin Family Motor Pool, circa 1970.
30 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinYes, before the commissars of California turned me into the coastal-elitist Zaporozhets lover I am today, my family lived a proper Old Milwaukee-drinking, sauerkraut-eating, snow-shoveling, Custom 500-driving life in the heartland. In fact, every photo from my early childhood features Old Milwaukee (or Old Style, or Grain Belt) beer bottles and/or Old Dutch pretzels somewhere in the frame.
10 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinRight. So, a Milwaukee car show did a good job of getting me back in touch with my inner Midwesterner, plus there were a few interesting machines standing out from the usual background of first-gen GM F-bodies and pre-Pinto Mustangs. Say, this Stovebolt six with vintage Offenhauser intake.
09 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinOr this more modern version of the custom-Chevy theme.
24 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinWe were hungry, so we headed to the south side of Milwaukee to grab some dinner. Before leaving, however, I futzed around with the audio system of the Sonic long enough to get my MP3 player hooked up to the stereo’s AUX jack…
22 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin… at which point I discovered that this no-frills econobox has functioning Bluetooth integration. How long ago was it that only luxury cars had this stuff? Ten years?
13 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe Sonic felt a bit loose and rattly, as you’d expect with a high-mileage rental, but everything worked fine and the 1.8 liter Ecotec still made decent, if buzzy, power. In fact, I can say without reservation that this is by far the best overseas-designed badge-engineered subcompact in General Motors history; the mildly unpleasant Aveo was better than the punitive Metro, which was better than the miserable Sprint, which was far superior to the wretched LeMans, which beat the hell out of the excremental Chevette, which seemed like a fine automobile next to the unspeakably terrible Kadett. With those comparisons in mind, we rolled into the south Milwaukee neighborhood in which my wife’s grandparents spent their entire lives.
11 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinDinner was at Three Brothers, a little Serbian joint located in the building that once housed one of Joseph Schlitz’s first breweries.
12 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinIt’s always a good sign when you’re eating dinner at a restaurant with one of these things on the roof.
14 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinReally getting into the Upper Midwest thing at this point, I tried to imagine rolling up to this restaurant in 1964, driving the rental-car equivalent of a Sonic. A Chevy II sedan with four-cylinder engine and 10,000 miles on the odometer?
15 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinFor dinner, I had the stuffed zucchini with dumplings. Highly recommended. No, I didn’t drink Schlitz with it; there is such a thing as carrying local authenticity too far.
18 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinAfter spending the night at my mother-in-law’s place just north of Milwaukee, we hit the road for the 140-drive to Sturgeon Bay, a Lake Michigan town about midway up the Door County peninsula.
23 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe Sonic’s suspension was a bit rattly and the body was pockmarked by old hail damage, but the unapologetically plasticky interior had held up to all those miles of rental-car punishment pretty well. I continued to be impressed by the number of once-luxurious features that are now standard on even the stripper rental version of the lowest-end car of a car company’s entry-level marque. Cruise control!
21 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinTilt steering wheel! No power seats, but we may see them go the way of manual-crank windows in the next few years.
07 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinI had to supply my own GPS device for the Sonic, but once backup cameras become mandatory in all new cars we can expect all those little screens to enable GPS in even the cheap Daewoos of the US car marketplace.
02 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinPassing through Belgium, Wisconsin, not far out of Milwaukee’s sphere of influence, I spotted a highway sign for the Luxembourg American Cultural Society Museum. As my legal surname should make clear to any lifelong resident of southern Wisconsin or Minnesota, I am a proud Luxembourg-American— just like Chris Evert and Dennis Hastert.
17 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe museum wasn’t open at the time, but it seemed like a pleasant place. No, I don’t understand why the Luxembourg American Cultural Center is located in Belgium when the town of Luxembourg, Wisconsin is nearby.
16 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinHere we are in traditional Luxembourger outfits, which gave me a powerful hunger for some traditional Lëtzebuerger Grillwurscht. So, we climbed back into the Sonic and resumed our journey.
03 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinRural Wisconsin is one of my favorite road-trip states, not least because you can stop in just about small town and snarf up an excellent meal based on the principles of the Upper Midwest Food Pyramid (more of a Food Holy Trinity, really): cured meat, cheese, and beer. The Port O’Call in Kewaunee didn’t have Lëtzebuerger Grillwurscht, but they did offer the full spectrum of New Glarus beers and a good selection of meaty, cheesy fare.
25 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinArriving in Sturgeon Bay, which is sort of a weird mashup of corn-fed Midwestern town, salty port city, and upscale resort community, I wanted to pose the Sonic by all the old-school taverns with nicely weathered Malaise Era beer signs.
26 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinI suspect that the Red Room’s Blatz sign predates the Malaise Era by a decade or two.

Beer at local prices! I gave up on the Sonic-with-vintage-beer-signs idea once I realized that such a project would take about a week to finish.
32 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinActually, I lost focus on beer signs when I spotted this Nissan Figaro parked in downtown Sturgeon Bay. I couldn’t find the owner, so I can’t tell you what no-doubt-innovative paperwork magic was performed to make this car legal for US roads.
33 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinNor can I tell you how a Citroën 2CV can survive in Wisconsin without vaporizing in a cloud of red dust within hours of arrival.
19 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinOne feature that really struck me about the Sonic was the cheap-and-cheerful instrument cluster, a discrete standalone unit that can be mounted on left or right side of the dash without too much trouble. No doubt using the same Korean-design/Taiwanese-capital/Chinese-labor system that brought us $25 boomboxes that can be tumbled down several flights of concrete steps and still crank out the Tang Dynasty, Daewoo has produced a tough, easy-to-replace analog/digital instrument cluster that provides all the needed driver information, looks vaguely science-fictiony, and probably cost less than the fuel gauge on a Maepsy.

In fact, this cluster is the first thing you see in the add for the Japan-market Chevy Sonic. Wild compact!

Now that we’re watching Sonic commercials, let’s take a look at a few more examples of the way this Daewoo is conquering the world. Here’s how they pitch it in Brazil.

In Australia, the Sonic gets badge-engineered into the Holden Barina.

In Argentina, this Sonic ad gives the econo-futuristic instrument cluster heavy billing.

The Thai-market Sonic is So You. Note the instrument cluster on the right side.

This US-market ad features Theophilus London and the sort of hoonage that would have been illegal under Malaise Era car-ad restrictions.

Speaking of hoonage, marketers of the Korean Sonic (still called the Aveo in 2012) encourage “Fun Riding” in Italy.

In Mexico, all night party people use the Sonic sedan to escape oppressive techno-state control.

Former Warsaw Pact countries got local-language versions of this ad.

This Indian-market ad is for the previous-generation Aveo, but I’m including it for general entertainment value (and to provide yet more evidence that GM has gone seriously global with its Sonic/Barina/Aveo/Zafira/whatever).
20 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin
OK, back to Wisconsin! After admiring the instrument cluster a while longer, I headed to the log cabin.
29 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinMy wife’s grandparents bought this log cabin on the Lake Michigan shore back in the 1940s, and I parked the Sonic in the spot where generations of Buicks and Packards once parked.
05 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinOver the course of the next week, I took the Sonic on many trips into town, to purchase crucial supplies (and to get internet access, so I could write about my Bonneville Salt Flats adventures of the previous week).
06 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinSonic trips to fine Wisconsonian eating establishments such as the Nightingale Supper Club, took care of my recommended yearly allowance of perch and whitefish.
04 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin
Naturally, the Sonic went on a few shopping expeditions for treats to bring back to Denver.
28 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinIn the end, I was a little sad to return the hail-battered, much-traveled Chevy to the rental-car lot at MKE. The current generation of Sonic turned out to be a decent transportation appliance. If it can survive 25,000 miles in a rental fleet, you have to figure it should be good for at least 200,000 miles on the street, right? My Rental Car Review Verdict™ of the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic LT: Utterly bereft of Mack Daddy style, surprisingly pleasant to drive. If given a choice between this car and a Nissan Versa at the rental-car counter, take the Sonic (and if given a choice between the Dodge Journey and walking, take walking).

01 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 16 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 17 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 18 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 19 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 20 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 21 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 22 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 23 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 24 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 25 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 26 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 27 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 28 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 29 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin

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In Defense: GM Daewoo’s Small Cars http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/in-defense-gm-daewoos-small-cars/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/in-defense-gm-daewoos-small-cars/#comments Thu, 02 May 2013 18:04:49 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=486822 Soon after TTAC’s article on General Motors’ new model make over, the naysayers were out in force. Commenter jpolicke for example suggested selling GM stock if its future relied on engineering coming from South Korea. However, signs abound that this time around GM is finding its way. Let’s examine some of the pros and cons: […]

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chevrolet-onix-2013-01. Photo courtesy motoresemmovimento.blogspot.com

Soon after TTAC’s article on General Motors’ new model make over, the naysayers were out in force. Commenter jpolicke for example suggested selling GM stock if its future relied on engineering coming from South Korea. However, signs abound that this time around GM is finding its way. Let’s examine some of the pros and cons:

On the plus side:

  • GM South Korea products have been well received in most parts of the world.
  • 70 percent of Cadillac buyers are first timers.
  • Buick has some of the lowest aged buyers in the business in North America.
  • The latest cars (gasp!) are good.

On the negative side:

  • The corporate drama continues with no letup, as evidenced by the latest shenanigans from Dan Akerson and Susan Docherty.
  • No sign of a permanent solution to the Opel question.
  • Insufficient and inadequate brand structuring in Europe, come on GM pick one (Opel? Vauxhall? Chevrolet?) and run with it.

 

The fact of the matter is that I’m no GM lover. I have never harbored a thought of owning a GM car. Then, a funny thing happened. I spent some time in a Brazilian-built, so far Latin American-only, Chevy Cobalt. It made me want to buy one. This car competes in one of the fastest growing segments the world over, that of the B segment-sized, A segment-priced car (think Dacia). I should know, I own one. But I would trade mine in on a Cobalt quite easily. While not the best looking in its class, the car rides well, is quiet, comfortable and offers some of the best interiors this side of a Fusion. Then I drove a Cruze (the hatch is beautiful). I took a ride in a Spin (so practical). GM launched the Onix (the car to buy in its particular market, pictured above). In America, our own Steven Lang has praised the Sonic, while much to the chagrin of haters, TTAC has also positively reviewed the Spark. Yes they have weak points, but they have strong points too. Enough to make this previous doubter, a believer.

The second fact of the matter is that the auto industry is a whole ‘nother ballgame. One Ford (with exceptions) is showing its value. Chrysler is internationalizing its line (Cherokee is proof positive). Buick now comes from Europe. The healthy, desirable, competitive, good as apple pie American Chevies all hail from the Far East. Even pick ups are not developed solely for Americans anymore (global Ranger, Colorado/S10, Amarok). American companies that fail to see this will inevitably fail. Americans are showing they want better-handling, more frugality, tighter packaging, smaller engines. V8s don’t rule the land anymore. Ford is thinking of dropping the Taurus and is concentrating on the Focus and Fiesta. VW’s Jetta is selling briskly. With the exception of the pick ups, most cars in the top 10 sales chart in America are either small or medium sized, and come with inline fours.

The old GM is dead and buried. The old, exceptional American market is no more. Blame it on the government, blame it on CAFE, blame it on the weather if you wish. I for one think American consumers have themselves to blame. With their large scale adoption of import brands, choosing smaller engines, and generally badmouthing anything and everything coming out of Detroit, they have gotten what they were looking for. Detroit has changed. GM has changed. GM’s transformation specially has been quite thorough and the company now offers cars that can compete and, more than that, can be sold because buyers want them. Much like in Brazil, where the model makeover is in full swing but has not yet borne fruit, it takes time. Like commenter 28-cars-later said most consumers (count me in as one) are “a bit slow on the uptake”.

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Attention Chevy Dealers: You’re Supposed To Be Downplaying The Korean Connection http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/03/attention-chevy-dealers-youre-supposed-to-be-downplaying-the-korean-connection/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/03/attention-chevy-dealers-youre-supposed-to-be-downplaying-the-korean-connection/#comments Wed, 13 Mar 2013 14:43:28 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=481072 I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: from the perspective of the manufacturer, dealers are the worst part of the business. Their consistent thirty-day-crunch mindset leads to all sorts of idiocy, including the “$500 Dance Contest” you see above. There’s something appropriate about it, however: Like the Cruze, Sonic, and Spark, “Gangnam Style” is […]

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I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: from the perspective of the manufacturer, dealers are the worst part of the business. Their consistent thirty-day-crunch mindset leads to all sorts of idiocy, including the “$500 Dance Contest” you see above.

There’s something appropriate about it, however:

Like the Cruze, Sonic, and Spark, “Gangnam Style” is a Korean product that has inexplicably found a wide following in the United States. One might quibble that the Cruze and Sonic are built in America, and one might respond that it’s an all-American bunch of electrons carrying the image of a man dancing like a horse while wearing a flotation device to your eyes. Given the early reports we’re hearing from the Impala launch, GM might be better off leaving all of its development work to Daewoo, er, “GM Korea”.

The decreasing number of Chevrolet dealerships, combined with the possibility of increasing Chevrolet sales, might permit GM to put a little more soft pressure on the dealers that survive the purge. When they can, they might want to follow the example below. This was given to all the Lincoln-Mercury dealers in the Seventies, along with a strong suggestion that it be used as-is:

You just know, however, that some Lincoln dealer dressed up like a chicken and did a dance on the hood of a Mark V while the phrase

CHEAP!
CHEAP!
CHEAP!

flashed on the screen. Until the last dealership surrenders its franchise to the OEMs, the government, or Google, that’s just the way things are going to be.

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Daewoo! The Lost Art of Macho Korean Car-Commercial Voiceovers http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/daewoo-the-lost-art-of-macho-korean-car-commercial-voiceovers/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/daewoo-the-lost-art-of-macho-korean-car-commercial-voiceovers/#comments Wed, 20 Feb 2013 14:00:08 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=478191 Daewoo never had much of a presence in the United States, though I do see the occasional Nubira in the junkyard. That’s too bad, because Korean-market Daewoo ads of the 1970s and 1980s have some of the manliest/cheeziest voiceovers in car-advertising history. Let’s take a look at some examples of the genre. This LeMans GTE […]

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Daewoo never had much of a presence in the United States, though I do see the occasional Nubira in the junkyard. That’s too bad, because Korean-market Daewoo ads of the 1970s and 1980s have some of the manliest/cheeziest voiceovers in car-advertising history. Let’s take a look at some examples of the genre.

This LeMans GTE ad features weedly-weee action-movie guitar, a pleather-clad babe executing a pseudo-J-turn, and an attack helicopter. Let’s compare it to the US-market ad for the same car, which was sold as the Pontiac LeMans.

There’s a babe with product-enhanced hair driving to the beach, but the entire feel of this ad is one of diminished expectations. Clearly, GM should have brought over some of Daewoo’s Korean marketing wizards.

Back in South Korea, the ’86 LeMans showed the way to a hard-hitting, testosterone-pumped future. It’s like a kick in the teeth from Syngman Rhee himself!

Not that Daewoo didn’t get a bit touchy-feely with this “sell stuff to the world” ad, but at least they brought in a deep-voiced hired voice and then added serious echo to it.

The Maepsy was a member of the Opel Kadett/Isuzu Gemini family, which means we’re looking at what amounts to the Korean Chevette. At the 1982 Daewoo board meeting depicted in this ad, the suits are flat awed by this car. Imagine if this ad had been adapted to the American marketplace for the 1982 Chevette. Maepsy!

Instead, here’s how Chevettes were sold that year. Hell, it’s enough to make a man want to buy a Fiat Strada!

If we fast-forward to the late 1990s, the US-market Nubira could have benefited from this approach. Note the badass voice of the yokel mechanic, as mandated by the Daewoo Macho Voice Creed.

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New or Used? Help Me Find My Old Love Edition http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/new-or-used-help-me-find-my-old-love-edition/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/new-or-used-help-me-find-my-old-love-edition/#comments Thu, 14 Feb 2013 19:09:49 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=477452 Dear Steve & Sajeev, For 14 years I have owned a 1998 Ford Windstar Northwoods Edition with the indomitable 3.8 Liter engine. I love this van! It’s been so reliable. $38,000 and 4 transmissions later, and old rusty is still trucking. Only had to do 4 head gaskets. AAA absolutely loves towing my vehicle. The […]

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Dear Steve & Sajeev,

For 14 years I have owned a 1998 Ford Windstar Northwoods Edition with the indomitable 3.8 Liter engine. I love this van! It’s been so reliable. $38,000 and 4 transmissions later, and old rusty is still trucking. Only had to do 4 head gaskets.

AAA absolutely loves towing my vehicle. The tow truck operator and I are nearly best friends now. The autoparts store employees know my vehicle year/model immediately as soon as I walk in the door.

This Windstar is a known commodity in my town. When I turn right, everyone knows now to move out of my way before the vehicle stalls and I lose my power steering. My bottom is permanently embedded into the comfortable 1/4″ padded seat.

My question is, “Where can I find another car with such outstanding reliability?” Here are a few highlights of my Ol’ Reliable…

  • 4 transmissions.
  • 4 head gaskets.
  • 2 engine overhauls.
  • Umpteen O2 sensors.
  • Various engine sensors.
  • Cupholders are perfect!
  • Body panels are non-existent as of 5 years ago (rust).

So what should I get? As you can tell by the $38,000 I spent, I am more than happy to invest in the right vehicle. Thanks!

Steve Says:

Gosh, this answer is as easy as rebuilding a Northstar V8. A job that only takes about three days and a fervent level of prayer.

Come to think of it, I would focus specifically on the late 1990’s vehicles since you apparently have a soft spot for them.

The Cadillac Deville and Seville of that era would easily offer the same fuel economy and comparable mechanical longevity. Oh, before I forget. Ignore the Escalade and everything else with a 350. That engine is pure junk!

Then you have the game changing late-90’s Dodge Intrepid and Chrysler Concorde with the tough as nails 2.7 Liter engine. I once bought a 2002 model that was owned by the Salvation Army since day one and had the oil changed religiously every 3,000 miles. It lasted exactly 95,000 miles. Apparently they take to longevity the same way that Richard Simmons takes to pussy.

I think a 1998 model would be about as good as it gets. They rarely go for more than $600 at the auctions and you see them at every auction here in Georgia. A very popular vehicle and surprisingly affordable.

Perhaps you want a more sophisticated car. Maybe something a bit more rare and exotic. How about a Daewoo? I don’t see too many of them out and about anymore. I’m sure the lucky owners must be keeping them in the garage in the hopes that they become the next Barrett-Jackson collectible.

There was a beautiful white Daewoo Nubira wagon at an impound auction in my town a few years back with only 41k miles. The bidding was downright furious that day.  In the very last minute, the guy who started the bidding at $100 was outdone by yours truly. Thanks to an intimidating wink of an eye which raised the bidding to a stratospheric $110. I remember that I gave him a wry smile with a wink that showed no mercy. He never made eye contact with me again.

Anyhow, I went to try to find an engine for it and you know what? None of the junkyards will sell one to you! It’s that valuable! I think the guys hording those engines are the same ones that won’t let me find a transmission for my 5-cylinder 1993 VW Eurovan.

So if it were me, I would go for the 1999 Daewoo Nubira wagon. Make sure you get the automatic.

You’re welcome.

Sajeev answers:

Steve has this all wrong: how can someone that made me laugh hard enough to cry while typing in WordPress trade up from that sweet-ass Ford Windstar?

You need a BMW 7-series (E38), Mercedes S-class (W140 or W220) or Audi A8 (Type 4D) to really max out your “bang for the buck.” By “buck” I mean the money you give people in your community who thrive by fixing horrible vehicles, horribly.  And by “bang” I mean any of the popular component failures that make doing a motor swap on a 3.8L Ford look like child’s play.

The fully depreciated–yet top drawer–German Sedans have it all for you!

  • There’s the air of sophistication and class of a Northwoods Edition Ford product, but more of it!
  • The imminent failure of sensors and modules, at prices exponentially higher than O2 sensors!
  • A single engine/transmission wear item that leads to a rebuild or replacement: costing as much as a not-shitty, fully machined, replacement 3.8L long block from Jasper with enough money left over to replace the radiator and water pump.
  • I have no German counterpoint for FWD minivan transaxles. Any of them!  How sad for me!

But, ask yourself, what’s the icing on the cake I’m offering you?

The Windstar’s cupholders are fine, but it’s a safe bet these uber-lux sedans have non-functional beverage holders!

Now do us all a solid and make sure you buy one from the creepiest person on Craigslist and insist on a complete lack of service records too!  BAM SON, you done won at the Out-Windstar-My-Windstar game!

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Rebadge Chaos: A Look Back http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/01/474891/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/01/474891/#comments Wed, 23 Jan 2013 14:55:04 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=474891 Today, we’re going to talk rebadges.  I know what you’re thinking: a TTAC post about rebadges.  Here comes an assault on General Motors.  You can almost hear the GM PR department groaning, except for the recently departed Joel Ewanick, who doesn’t have time to groan because he’s too busy putting out a garage fire.  But […]

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Today, we’re going to talk rebadges.  I know what you’re thinking: a TTAC post about rebadges.  Here comes an assault on General Motors.  You can almost hear the GM PR department groaning, except for the recently departed Joel Ewanick, who doesn’t have time to groan because he’s too busy putting out a garage fire.  But I’m going to leave GM out of this.  Mostly.  Instead, I’m going to focus on some of the more obscure rebadges from the last few decades.  They were all badly conceived.  Most were poorly executed.  And none of them should’ve happened.

I have to start with my all-time favorite rebadge, which is the first-generation Honda Crossroad.  I say the first generation because there’s a second-gen out there now and it looks like the love child of a Nissan Cube and a bulldog.  But the first-gen instead resembled a Series I Land Rover Discovery, because it was a Series I Land Rover Discovery, just with the square Honda emblems quite literally placed in the Land Rover oval’s round pegs.

It would be cool to have go-anywhere Land Rover cachet with Honda reliability, right?  Well, this was the exact opposite: Honda badging, which carries little cachet outside a reputation for reliability, and Land Rover construction, which is generally a good place to start a garage fire investigation.  Unless you’re at Joel Ewanick’s house.  The Crossroad went on sale in Japan and a few other unlucky countries in 1993 before being cancelled in 1998, presumably due to embarrassment.

But the Crossroad wasn’t the only embarrassing car to emerge from Honda’s alliance with Rover.  You can still see rebadged Honda Civics driving around Europe as the Rover 400, though maybe only in Swindon.  Honda also lent the Ballade and Concerto to Rover for the 200, while the Euro Accord became the 600. That meant during the 1990s, virtually every Rover driving (slowly) around Britain was actually a Honda underneath.  Despite the quality this implied, sales remained confined to old-age pensioners who would’ve bought a car made of wood if it had a windshield, a motor, and came from Mother England.  Hell, they actually do this: it’s called Morgan.

There’s still more from Honda.  Most Americans are unaware that the Acura EL (and later, the CSX) is an upscale Honda Civic that’s been available in Canada since 1997.  Naturally, the car is mediocre, though it included major changes from the Civic like different taillights and a larger center console.  Nothing says luxury like a larger center console.  I have a theory that Acura has been moderately successful with the car simply because Canadians are too polite to refuse it.  And some are so polite they actually buy it, but only so Honda’s feelings aren’t hurt.

Of course, many of us know about some of Honda’s more widely publicized rebadge flops – but if you don’t, I suggest putting “Isuzu Oasis,” “Acura SLX,” and “Honda Passport” into Google Images.  Sales were so poor, you certainly won’t find any on the road.

Speaking of Passport, we now must follow the lead set by every other rebadge article and introduce General Motors.  But in a rare twist, I won’t mention the Cadillac Cimarron.  Except just now.  Instead, I’m calling out Passport International Automobiles.

Named like the kind of thing Malcolm Bricklin would’ve attempted to force on America, Passport was actually a GM brand in Canada.  Passport dealers sold Saab and Isuzu, but also the Passport Optima – a rebadged Opel Kadett E, sold in the states as the Pontiac LeMans.  Not the LeMans that underpinned the GTO, mind you, but the front-drive 1980s subcompact later sold in Southeast Asia as the Daewoo Heaven.  Yes, the Heaven.  I swear this is true.

As expected, Passport was a flop.  Also as expected, GM learned from its mistake by trying the same thing again, except on a grander scale.  It jettisoned Passport in favor of Asüna, complete with an umlaut, apparently in deference to GM’s favorite heavy metal bands.  Or maybe it was a Häagen-Dazs-style attempt to sell the brand as an exotic European automaker – a plot that failed to convince even the most polite Canadians, who apparently have no qualms about hurting GM’s feelings.

Asüna died in 1995 along with all three of its products: another Kadett rebadge called the SE or GT depending on bodystyle; the Asüna Sunrunner, better known as the Geo Tracker or Suzuki Sidekick; and the Asüna Sunfire, which was not – as you may expect – a Pontiac Sunfire twin, but rather a rebadged Isuzu Impulse.

The Impulse also factors into our next bizarre rebadge story, which entangles Detroit, Seoul, and … Hethel.  You see, in the midst of all this rebadging, GM somehow found the time to buy Lotus, then a fledgling British underdog untainted by Malaysians and Dany Bahar’s four-figure haircuts.

Deciding a little cost-cutting was in order, GM commissioned an all-new Elan, powered by the Impulse’s four-cylinder Isuzu motor.  After the Elan’s run, which resulted in a record half the cars leaving Hethel in working order, Kia rebadged the car in South Korea as the Kia Elan.  Aside from new badging and wheels, Kia’s only change was to add the words “Ultra Power” in capital letters on the engine block.  Really.  I can only assume the ensuing electrical problems and leaking roofs scarred Kia for life, as they haven’t returned to the sports car market since. (Cue angry e-mails from the Forte Koup forum.)

Probably inspired by Oliver North, Kia was buying rebadged sports cars from Lotus just as they were selling subcompact hatchbacks to Ford.  Remember the Festiva and the Aspire?  Both were rebadged Kia Prides.  Ford took its Asian fetish well beyond Korea, snagging a huge interest in Mazda by the mid-1990s.  The most (un)forgettable rebadge to come out of that kinship was the Mazda Navajo, a two-door Ford Explorer clone released at the height of demand for the four-door Ford Explorer.

Of course, you can’t discuss Japanese-American auto relations without a shout-out to the “mediocre mashup,” which is the only possible way of describing the union of Chrysler and Mitsubishi.  Like a couple D students working together on a school project while sharing a bowl, virtually everything these two made was an instant failure.  We’ll start with two products called Raider.  The first was a 1980s Mitsubishi Montero sold as the Dodge Raider, which loudly announced its owners weren’t buying American with badging that read “Imported for Dodge.”

Payback came in the form of the Dodge Dakota-clone Mitsubishi Raider, which debuted for 2006.  Taking its cue from the earlier Raider, or possibly the Oakland Raiders, the Mitsubishi version was also a failure.  This was in spite of massive incentives Mitsubishi had on the truck, which included “zero percent forever” and “buy two, become the dealer principal.”

Aside from the DSM cars, the only thing Chryslerbishi got right was the Starion, a sports car that preceded the Mitsubishi 3000GT. But Chrysler even managed to screw that up thanks to a naming strategy that gave every one of its brands a turn.  The Plymouth Conquest and Dodge Conquest were first, while the Chrysler Conquest later replaced both.  I’d like to tell you this is the only nameplate ever sold by three brands, but Chrysler actually repeated its feat with the Neon, also sold with Chrysler, Dodge, and Plymouth badging.

So there you have it, folks: a little obscure rebadge history.  Maybe you learned something, maybe you had a chuckle, maybe you’re Joel Ewanick and you want me dead.  But no matter what, I’m sure the comments will be littered with tales of even more obscure rebadges.  Bring ‘em on.

Doug DeMuro has owned an E63 AMG wagon, roadtripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute laptime on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta.  One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer.  His parents are very disappointed.

 

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Question Of The Day: What Is The Best Orphan Car In History? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/11/question-of-the-day-what-is-the-best-orphan-car-in-history/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/11/question-of-the-day-what-is-the-best-orphan-car-in-history/#comments Mon, 12 Nov 2012 14:00:58 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=466565   There was the Cadillac of minivans. A different kind of company selling a different kind of car. A Swede with no compromises, and a Frenchman that went from strength to strength. Daihatsus that were perhaps, a bit too modest, by skinny dipping their unknown name in a slogan-less lake. And then we had that crazy distant Yugoslavian […]

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Are you talkin’ to me???

 

There was the Cadillac of minivans. A different kind of company selling a different kind of car. A Swede with no compromises, and a Frenchman that went from strength to strength.

Daihatsus that were perhaps, a bit too modest, by skinny dipping their unknown name in a slogan-less lake. And then we had that crazy distant Yugoslavian cousin who bragged about a ‘road back to sanity’ while his neighbors blew up his plant.

They are gone now from these shores, for now. As is Opel, Hummer, Mercury, Plymouth, and in due time, Suzuki. An amazing variety of brands that offered their own interesting contributions to the mosaic of the American automotive experience.

Rockys and Rodeos were rugged for too short of a while. While Hummer alternated between playing the role of the military bad-ass and the fashionista poseur. Eventually style won, followed by bankruptcy.

Europeans always offered a more sophisticated level of style while battling Gremlins on every level. While weaker Japanese marques, plainly, contributed varying levels of utility and engineering excellence to a marketplace that expected far more.

Then there is Oldsmobile.

Oldsmobile, the rocket division, was the power and the glory.  From their 300+ horsepower cruisers of the late-60’s to the best selling Cutlass Supremes of the mid-80’s. It’s hard to find fault with a popular brand like Oldsmobile that was torturously mis-marketed and blandified into irrelevance.

All defunct brands have their unique qualities. But which vintage offered the very best? Which model among them all provided that level of power and prestige that begs for a resurrection of the brand?

Any constraints on choices? Well… no outright luxury or exotic brands. Vectors, Deusenbergs, Cords and Tuckers may have their place in museuems the world over. But for this particular exercise I want special attention to be given to those models that served the everyday Joe.

Choose your car wisely, and defend it well.  Hell hath no Fury like a Plymouth.

 

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Companies! Cheap! For You, Special Price: GM’s Hong Kong Dealings http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/10/companies-cheap-for-you-special-price-gms-hong-kong-dealings/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/10/companies-cheap-for-you-special-price-gms-hong-kong-dealings/#comments Mon, 22 Oct 2012 13:14:06 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=464477 Hong Kong, and I speak from experience, is a great place to incorporate, to save taxes, and to throw a cloak of secrecy over financial operations which otherwise would be out in the open. In the case of GM, it is also a great place to save their Korean behinds. In December 2009, GM sold […]

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Hong Kong, and I speak from experience, is a great place to incorporate, to save taxes, and to throw a cloak of secrecy over financial operations which otherwise would be out in the open. In the case of GM, it is also a great place to save their Korean behinds. In December 2009, GM sold a 1% stake in its Shanghai-GM (SGM) joint venture to the Hong Kong part of its Chinese partner SAIC for the paltry sum of $85m. GM also put its India business into a Hong Kong based joint venture (HKJV). GM provided the India business, SAIC provided cash. As it turned out later, unearthed in Ed Niedermeyer’s seminal oeuvre about the mystery golden share, SAIC also underwrote a $400 million loan. In its darkest hour at the end of 2009, GM was kept afloat by the Chinese. Now, history seems to repeat itself in some convoluted way.

Also at the same time in 2009, the Korean Development Bank was trying to gain control of GM-Daewoo. That company, GM’s main source of low-cost, fuel-efficient car development, was in urgent need of cash which GM did not have. GM-DAT was kept in the GM fold after a $413m cash injection into its Korean subsidiary, only weeks before the Hong Kong deal. The money came from China via Hong Kong.

Three years later, GM is sitting on a taxpayer-enhanced $33 billion cash pile, and it seems to be time and opportune to use some to unwind some Asian positions. Again, the hub is Hong Kong. Last week, it became known that GM buys back most of the shares in is (Hong Kong held) India business for the again paltry sum of $125 million, leaving partner SAIC with a token 7 percent. On paper, this was a great deal. When GM put its India business into the HKJV, the business was, according to SEC filings, valued at $200 million. Now, most of it is coming back for $125 million. Not that SAIC would receive that money. GM did a capital raise, SAIC elected not to match it, and was diluted to 7 percent. It is surprising that SAIC would let control slip so easily. India is the world’s next growth market, with a capacity rivaling that of China. The Chinese car industry was effectively locked out of India, SAIC snuck in on GM’s coat tails. And now we are supposed to believe that SAIC walked away from that prize, after it had put in anywhere between $300 and $500 million in cash? Highly un-Chinese.

Be it $200 million or $125 million, the amounts are awfully low for Indian car plants with a capacity of more than 300,000 units per year. As a comparison: Tesla, a company that had nothing more than big ideas and a few prototypes of EVs of dubious value, could raise $226 million at the IPO. As another comparison: BMW budgets $260 million for a pocket-sized 30,000 unit plant in Brazil that does nothing more than assembling kits from Germany. These Indian numbers simply do not compute.

Remember Korea? As if on cue, Korea pops up after some strange Hong Kong transactions are settled. Over the weekend, Reuters reported that GM made an “informal offer” to the Korea Development Bank to buy back the 17 percent the bank holds in GM Korea. GM currently owns 77 percent. A price was not released.

How does this all fit together? We have no idea. However, we are sure it does.

And remember the famous golden share? In April, it was announced that GM would get the 1 percent share in its Chinese joint venture back, for a huge price: GM and SAIC established a sales company, SGMS. SAIC received a 51 percent majority control of the sales company. So far the theory. The reality, filed in the most recent 10-Q to the SEC, looks different. In the document, GM is listed as a 49 percent owner of SGMS. And it is still listed as a 49 percent owner of Shanghai General Motors (SGM). According to the SEC filing, SAIC has 51% both in the new sales company and the old joint venture.

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Chevrolet’s Small Car Sparking Small Car Demand http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/10/chevrolets-small-car-sparking-small-car-demand/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/10/chevrolets-small-car-sparking-small-car-demand/#comments Fri, 12 Oct 2012 13:00:34 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=463531 Strong demand is spurring Chevrolet to import more Chevrolet Spark minicars from Korea – though Chevrolet won’t release their initial projections or how many Sparks will be imported in the next round. Chevrolet sold 6,313 Sparks in the first two months it went on sale, surpassing the Smart Fortwo and Scion iQ. The Spark was […]

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Strong demand is spurring Chevrolet to import more Chevrolet Spark minicars from Korea – though Chevrolet won’t release their initial projections or how many Sparks will be imported in the next round.

Chevrolet sold 6,313 Sparks in the first two months it went on sale, surpassing the Smart Fortwo and Scion iQ. The Spark was initially sold in 18 urban markets but is now available nationwide. A strike at GM’s Korean plant put a damper on production, full-scale output has resumed.

Third party projections estimated 27,000 annual sales of the Spark, but GM is on track to exceed that number.

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Junkyard Find: 2000 Daewoo Nubira Station Wagon http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/junkyard-find-2000-daewoo-nubira-station-wagon/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/junkyard-find-2000-daewoo-nubira-station-wagon/#comments Sun, 22 Jul 2012 13:00:02 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=453380 Remember the Daewoo Nubira? No? Did you know that there was a wagon version? Even though production of the Nubira stopped just ten years ago, this car has all but disappeared from our consciousness. The only reason I noticed this Nubira wagon in a Colorado self-service yard last week was its relatively pristine, un-picked-over condition […]

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Remember the Daewoo Nubira? No? Did you know that there was a wagon version? Even though production of the Nubira stopped just ten years ago, this car has all but disappeared from our consciousness.
The only reason I noticed this Nubira wagon in a Colorado self-service yard last week was its relatively pristine, un-picked-over condition among a row of completely gutted imports. This row of cars had been out for a couple of months and is no doubt due to be crushed any day now. Even the Kia Sephia nearby had been picked clean, but hardly anybody wanted Nubira parts.
The only reason I’ve been aware of Daewoos in the junkyard at all is that the Faster Farms Plymouth Belvedere LeMons team has been harvesting junkyard Daewoo emblems, cutting off the “Dae” parts, and installing “WOO WOO” badges all over their car. For that reason, I think of a couple of disreputable-looking dudes in skanky chicken suits hooting “WOO WOO!” every time I see a junkyard Daewoo.
We see Daewoos on the street all the time nowadays, but they have Chevy Aveo and Sonic emblems. Like Isuzu, the Daewoo name never meant much on these shores.

14 - 2000 Daewoo Nubira Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 01 - 2000 Daewoo Nubira Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 2000 Daewoo Nubira Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 2000 Daewoo Nubira Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 2000 Daewoo Nubira Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 2000 Daewoo Nubira Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 2000 Daewoo Nubira Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 2000 Daewoo Nubira Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 2000 Daewoo Nubira Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 2000 Daewoo Nubira Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 2000 Daewoo Nubira Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 2000 Daewoo Nubira Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 2000 Daewoo Nubira Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 2000 Daewoo Nubira Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin

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Rental Car Review: 2012 Chevrolet Captiva Sport http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/rental-car-review-2012-chevrolet-captiva-sport/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/rental-car-review-2012-chevrolet-captiva-sport/#comments Sat, 14 Jul 2012 13:00:37 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=451846   If you’re shopping for a compact American crossover, Chevy’s Equinox is likely on your list. If however you’re looking to rent a small crossover, the Chevrolet Captiva Sport is probably what you’ll get for $29.95 a day from Hertz. While you’re bound to see them on the streets, you can’t buy them new unless […]

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If you’re shopping for a compact American crossover, Chevy’s Equinox is likely on your list. If however you’re looking to rent a small crossover, the Chevrolet Captiva Sport is probably what you’ll get for $29.95 a day from Hertz. While you’re bound to see them on the streets, you can’t buy them new unless you’re a fleet customer. That’s because the Captiva is designed to do two things: keep fleet sales of GM’s other CUVs low and continue to amortize the cost of Americanizing the Opel Antara. Yep, that’s right, under the bow tie, the Captiva Sport is none-other than the 2008-2010 Saturn VUE, aka the Opel Antata, Holden Captiva and Dawewoo Winstorm MaXX. We spent a week in a Hertz rental to find out if Chevy’s rental soft-roader should be on your used CUV shopping list.

Click here to view the embedded video.

 Exterior

The exterior of the Captiva is simple, clean, and completely unremarkable. Saturn called the design theme “Opel look share” which roughly translates to “Americanized Opel built-in Mexico.” Because the Captiva was “created” for fleet duty the plain-Jane looks are completely appropriate (and the slab-sides make covering the CUV with vinyl wraps or magnetic signs an easy process.) On the downside, the Captiva looks nothing like the rest of the Chevrolet product lineup. Of course, this probably isn’t a bad idea since fleet use tends to create high depreciation. Despite the rental-fleet target demographic, alloy wheels and side curtain airbags are standard on all Captiva models. If only Ford could have figure this out and kept the Panther afloat for fleet duty (and Sajeev.)

Interior

The Captiva’s interior is a study in grey plastic, but the look is both simple and tasteful. Cabin materials are higher than you might expect with plenty of soft touch plastics. Durability is always an issue with rentals. Our tester has over 18,000 miles on it and looked like a herd of feral animals had migrated in one window and out the other, however a pre-photo shoot wipe-down revealed that the interior plastics took the beating in stride, showing little wear, but questionable fit and finish. Most Captivas for rent (and therefore available on the used market) have the “2LS” package which includes a power driver’s seat, lumbar support, leather-wrapped steering wheel, single-zone climate control, fog lights and Bluetooth phone integration. The standard cloth seats are firm and supportive up front, but fairly hard and low to the ground in the rear. Luggage space in the Captiva rings in at 29 cubic feet behind the rear seats, and 54 cubes with the rear seats folded. This is higher than the $19.95-a-day Malibu, but about 30% less than the CR-V and RAV4.

Infotainment

Unlike most GM fleet vehicles, the Captiva can’t be stripped to the bone for volume buyers. This means you can expect all rental and off-rental Captivas out there to have side-curtain airbags, air conditioning, cruise control and a silver-tone version of GM’s corporate AM/FM/CD/MP3/iPod/USB head unit. While GM does offer the option to remove OnStar and XM Satellite Radio from the Captiva, doing so is an “option” that only reduces the sticker by $85 so it doesn’t seem common. GM has had a long history of phone integration since OnStar came on the scene in 1995 and this translates into excellent Bluetooth phone call quality. The head unit’s iDevice and USB integration worked well with my iPod nano, iPhone 4S and iPad 3 as well as a variety of USB flash drives but navigating a large collection of songs is tedious on the small display.

Drivetrain

Under the short hood of the Captiva lurks “some engine.” As a fleet or rental car, this section is fairly unimportant and could understandably skipped if GM hadn’t made some important improvements. Back in 2008 the VUE had less-than-refined engine and transmission choices. Rather than maintaining the status quo, GM dropped in a new 2.4L direct-injection four-cylinder engine good for 182HP and 172lb-ft of torque and bolted it to a 6-speed automatic. The power boost over the old four is welcome, but the transmission is the bigger change. The GM/Ford developed 6-speed delivers smooth shifts with surprisingly little hunting and most importantly: improved fuel economy. There is still a V6 option, but the old 3.6L engine has been ditched in favor of a more powerful 3.0L direct injection V6 putting out 264HP and 222lb-ft. As with the old Saturn VUE, AWD can only be added with the V6.

Drive

The Captiva’s Opel roots are obvious out on the road and I’m not talking about the odd-looking steering wheel stalks. The Captiva handles twisty roads acceptably with a well controlled chassis, average steering feedback and a surprisingly quiet ride. Stabbing the throttle in the four-cylinder model produced very little torque steer despite the respectable 182HP on tap.

Unlike many of GM’s four-cylinder engines, the 2.4L direct injection engine is surprisingly quiet, smooth and thankfully free of the diesel-like clatter from BMW and Ford’s turbo fours. This level of engine refinement is important, because 182HP pitted against 3,900lbs means the engine spends plenty of time at higher RPMs.

The EPA rates the four-cylinder Captiva at 20/28MPG (city/highway), an improvement of 1/6MPG over the Saturn VUE thanks to the extra gears and the DI treatment. The FWD V6 Captiva matches the V6 FWD VUE at 17/24MPG despite the increase in power while the AWD Captiva takes a 1MPG hit on the highway. The 6-speed automatic manages to make the 400lb heavier Captiva competitive with the 4-speed RAV4 and only 3MPG behind the 5-speed CR-V.

GM’s fleet website prices the Captiva Sport between $23,435 and $32,860 depending on your trim and options. Given that GM fleet purchases typically see rebates from $500 to $3,000 depending on the number of vehicles purchased, the true starting cost is lower. A quick used car search revealed nearly a hundred used 2012 Captivas within 500 miles of my location compared with four 2012 RAV4s, and 15 2012 CR-Vs. This comparative plenty helps translate to the advertised $18,000 prices for low mileage (under 12,000 miles) base models and $26,000 for fully loaded AWD Captivas with leather. Adjusting for content, a used RAV4 has a resale value some $2,000-$3,000 higher and a quick conversation with the Hertz sales guy proved there was plenty of room to negotiate on the Chevy. Since late-model used car purchases are all about the bang-for-the-buck, if you’re shopping for a bargain used crossover, the 2012 Chevrolet Captiva Sport should be on your short list.

 

Neither Chevrolet nor Hertz provided anything for this review. Our total bill was $360 after tax and insurance for a 5-day rental.

Specifications as tested

0-60: 9.5 Seconds (2.4L FWD)

Average Fuel Economy: 20.1 MPG over 623 miles

 

2012 Chevrolet Captiva Sport, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevrolet Captiva Sport, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevrolet Captiva Sport, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevrolet Captiva Sport, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevrolet Captiva Sport, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevrolet Captiva Sport, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevrolet Captiva Sport, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevrolet Captiva Sport, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevrolet Captiva Sport, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevrolet Captiva Sport, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevrolet Captiva Sport, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevrolet Captiva Sport, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevrolet Captiva Sport, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevrolet Captiva Sport, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevrolet Captiva Sport, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevrolet Captiva Sport, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevrolet Captiva Sport, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevrolet Captiva Sport, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevrolet Captiva Sport, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevrolet Captiva Sport, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevrolet Captiva Sport, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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Someday, GM Will Own the Streets of Hanoi! http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/someday-gm-will-own-the-streets-of-hanoi/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/someday-gm-will-own-the-streets-of-hanoi/#comments Thu, 05 Apr 2012 15:00:26 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=438443 During my visit to Vietnam last month, I photographed many Honda Super Cubs, but I always kept one eye open for other interesting vehicles. I spotted a few Toyota Crown Royal Saloons, which was cool, but catching a Geo Chevrolet Tracker at a Hanoi intersection was one of the weirder sightings. Studying the photograph later, […]

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During my visit to Vietnam last month, I photographed many Honda Super Cubs, but I always kept one eye open for other interesting vehicles. I spotted a few Toyota Crown Royal Saloons, which was cool, but catching a Geo Chevrolet Tracker at a Hanoi intersection was one of the weirder sightings. Studying the photograph later, I realized that three of the four (non-two-wheeled) vehicles in the frame were GM products that show the breadth of The General’s Asian empire. In the foreground, there’s a Chevrolet Matiz, made by Daewoo (I saw plenty of these things, badged as Pontiacs, when I visited Nayarit State in Mexico last year). Then there’s a Toyota Innova, which we can ignore. After that, the Tracker, made by Suzuki (yes, it has a snorkel). Then we’ve got a Daewoo bus in the background.
I think the GM product I saw in Hanoi that I’d most like to see sold in the United States is the Daewoo Labo Roach Coach; this thing seems to have about the same footprint as a Honda Fit, if it’s even that big. We need more Kei Truck Roach Coaches!

Vietnam_GM_Pride-1280x872 Daewoo_Kei_RoachCoach-1280px Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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Review: 2011 Chevrolet Spark 1.2 (Global-Spec) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/08/review-2011-chevrolet-spark-1-2-global-spec/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/08/review-2011-chevrolet-spark-1-2-global-spec/#comments Fri, 12 Aug 2011 17:25:11 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=406924 If you have a pulse and a willful ignorance of the local speed limit, you’re probably not interested in the Chevrolet Spark. If you’re a media-savvy hipster who’s on Facebook sixteen hours a day, you’re probably not interested in the Spark, either. If you’re a techno-geek or an eco-geek, you’re probably still not interested in the Chevrolet […]

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If you have a pulse and a willful ignorance of the local speed limit, you’re probably not interested in the Chevrolet Spark. If you’re a media-savvy hipster who’s on Facebook sixteen hours a day, you’re probably not interested in the Spark, either. If you’re a techno-geek or an eco-geek, you’re probably still not interested in the Chevrolet Spark.

If you need something to get you from point Alpha to point Beta and aren’t willing to pay too much, you might be interested in the Spark. But only after all the alternatives have been removed from your short-list as being too sensible. And even then, a lobotomy might be required to help you make up your mind.

That’s a shame, because the Spark isn’t really that bad.

The Spark competes in a super-mini class that’s largely ignored in the United States simply because of the lack of motorboat-towing power and decent-sized cupholders. The old Daewoo/Chevrolet Matiz that GM’s global division has been peddling around is even worse than the norm, with a cabin two sizes smaller than the competition and barstools stapled to the floor in lieu of actual car seats. Crash-safety is only noteworthy in the fact that at one time, it scored the infamous “zero stars” on the EuroNCAP tests.

The new Spark is a completely different vehicle. For one, it scores a commendable four stars on the EuroNCAP (missing the fifth for lack of stability control). Unfortunately, they’ve dumped the classic lines of the Guigaro-penned Matiz and replaced it with a deformed, head-shrunken Cruze.

Like the Cruze, it’s the roomiest in its class by a few hair-widths, with legroom more subcompact than super-mini. The seats are still two sizes too small, but they’re comfortable, at least. There’s enough trunk space for about a week’s worth of groceries, and cubbies for oodles of odds and ends. There are even cupholders big enough for Big Gulps.

The Spark tries to pull a Mini by having the instrument gauges mounted on the steering column, but the steering wheel obscures the top of the speedometer and the tiny digital tachometer doesn’t seem to sync up to the engine. The rest of the cabin is nice, though the body-colored trim is tackier than a Dodge Caliber’s. To note: the shiny black cladding around the side mirrors and the hidden rear door handles is pretty pitiful, even for Chevrolet.

On paper, the 1.2 liter engine provides more than enough power and acceleration to satisfy compact owners looking to downsize. Chevrolet claims a 0-62 time of 12.1 seconds. But in reality, you’d be lucky to get within a second of that time. It suffers from the same issues as the 1.8 Cruze, namely a lack of mid-range punch and a pronounced wheeziness near redline. The five speed manual gearbox is well-mated to the meagre power, but finding third is an adventure, hitting fifth is a chore, and finding reverse requires an instruction manual. The mix of rubbery shifter, short gear ratios and laggy tachometer makes overtaking on the highway more exciting than it really ought to be.

On to the good stuff: The Spark drives with some verve. The chassis balance is great, with good body control and composure. While understeer is the car’s default setting, the Spark responds well to throttle-lift and trail-braking. The turning circle is incredibly tight, yet a slow steering ratio keeps it from feeling darty at high speeds. Though it’s not quite Mazda2 keen, the steering wheel actually feels like it’s connected to the front tires, making for a relatively pleasant driving experience.

None of this comes at the expense of the ride, which is supple and absorbent. Even at speeds in excess of 80 mph, which is as fast as you can go without a tail-wind, the Spark feels as stable as a compact car, with minimal wind and road noise. I wish I could say the same about the engine, which sounds ready to explode at higher revs. Despite the mill’s shortcomings, it’s pretty economical, reaching 35-40 mpg in mixed driving. Not at 80 mph, obviously, but hey, you can’t have everything.

I won’t talk much about amenities and gadgets, because a lot can change by the official launch, sometime between now and the twelfth of never. Maybe GM is waiting for everyone to forget the Spark’s debut as the gold-toothed, jive-talking, racist-stereotype “Skids” in “Transformers”. Considering that this abomination of a movie marketing tie-ins has been immortalized in a line of even uglier toys, that may take a while.

Shame, as the Spark is a good little car with virtually no competitors on the US market. But the longer GM waits to release it, the more likely it is that the Spark’s Korean competitors will get there first and ruin the party for the spunky little Daewoo.

Storage... of sorts. Approved for the US market in 2012 Spark it up... twelve-hundred cubic centimeters... sounds better, right? Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Like A Rock? Real estate is tight...

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Unlocking The Secrets Of GM’s Golden China Share http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/08/inside-gms-china-golden-china-share/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/08/inside-gms-china-golden-china-share/#comments Wed, 10 Aug 2011 21:26:34 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=406604 Having been asked by a certain newspaper to review the new book “American Wheels, Chinese Roads: The Story of General Motors in China [more info on that review coming soon], I’ve been spending my quiet moments over the last week or so looking into GM’s Chinese operations. The book’s author, Michael Dunne, documents GM’s rise […]

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Having been asked by a certain newspaper to review the new book “American Wheels, Chinese Roads: The Story of General Motors in China [more info on that review coming soon], I’ve been spending my quiet moments over the last week or so looking into GM’s Chinese operations. The book’s author, Michael Dunne, documents GM’s rise in the Middle Kingdom from the perspective of a well-informed outsider, revealing just how delicate one of GM’s best-performing global maneuvers really was. But after following the rise of GM in China, Dunne notes the December 2009 announcement that GM was selling a 1% stake in its Shanghai-GM (SGM) joint venture to its Chinese partner SAIC (for the paltry sum of $85m no less), arguing that GM had made a dangerous leap of necessity. This sale, implies Dunne, could well have been the tipping point that leads to GM being surpassed by its erstwhile junior (in size, technology and global reach) partner, SAIC. And, in the words of “one GM executive who used to work in China,” GM would need

good luck getting that back.

But, back in June, GM CEO Dan Akerson told GM’s shareholder meeting that he wants to do just that, saying

We have an option to buy that 1 percent. It’s our intention to exercise that.

With Akerson’s announcement, the mystery of GM’s “golden share” sale deepened. At first the question was simply “why would GM sell its 1%?” but now there’s another mystery: why would GM want it back? After some digging, it seems that we are now able to resolve the first mystery, and report why GM sold its one percent. But the whole deal is still surrounded by several layers of mystery which conceal whether GM will in fact be able to regain its 50-50 partnership in SGM, why it would want to and whether its gambit was ultimately worthwhile. And given how important China has been (and continues to be) to GM’s global business, this is definitely an issue that GM- and industry-watchers will want to better understand.

First of all, it’s important that we understand how the deal was announced, as it caused a good deal of head-scratching here at TTAC and around the auto industry. As the WSJ [sub] reported at the time, GM played down any major implications of its apparent surrender of an equal partnership in one of its most important markets:

“In actual fact we operate that way already, so that’s not a significant change,” said Nick Reilly, who stepped aside as head of GM’s international operations Friday to run its European business.

GM said the transfer was necessary to help SAIC consolidate earnings from the Shanghai GM joint venture, having been previously barred from doing so as a 50:50 partner under local financial regulations.

The NYT added

the 51 percent stake would give S.A.I.C. the right to approve the venture’s budget, future plans and senior management.

But, as Dunne and others have pointed out, no other Chinese joint ventures have made this move, suggesting that SAIC’s desire to consolidate earnings were not the only reason for the deal. Further confusing the situation was the tiny purchase price: by selling its controlling 1% for a mere $85m, it seemed as if GM were giving away the keys to the Middle Kingdom for chump change. And Akerson’s revelation that GM has an option to reclaim the 1% confused all of this even further: after all, with SAIC insisting that it retain its consolidated earnings in the case of a return to the 50-50 partnership, it would seem that the sale part was unnecessary to that goal, which could have been accomplished with a (relatively) simple contract. What, I’ve been wondering for days now, was really going on with this deal? How to square all of this seemingly contradictory information? Did GM make a worthwhile gamble, or did it foolishly fumble away a key market?

After much digging and many emails to GM, the situation is finally starting to make a little sense. And in the process we got our hands on some information that has yet to be published in the mainstream media (to the best of my knowledge). GM confirms that it does in fact have a call option for the controlling 1% stake, but refuses to give any details about how it might be exercised or what its terms are. The only specific information about the deal comes 196 pages into a 534-page 10-K filing [PDF here] covering calendar year 2010. That filing reveals that, although GM does have the option to buy back the 1% stake, it’s not in the driver’s seat to make that happen…

 We also received a call option to repurchase the 1% which is contingently exercisable based on events which we do not unilaterally control.

Of course GM won’t disclose what these events are (although Akerson does hint that SAIC’s restructuring is somehow an issue), but the admission that the company doesn’t “unilaterally control” the events required to buy it back keeps the shadow of doubt over Akerson’s stated “intention” to return to a 50-50 partnership. Still, with it’s back against the wall, it’s still possible that GM could have signed a deal that might still keep it a junior partner in SGM… had there been enough cash on the table. $85m was clearly not enough to make such a deal worthwhile, but according to the 10-K filing we’ve obtained, there was more in the deal for GM than that.

In February 2010 we sold a 1% ownership interest in SGM to SAIC-HK, reducing our ownership interest to 49%. The sale of the 1% ownership interest to SAIC was predicated on our ability to work with SAIC to obtain a $400 million line of credit from a commercial bank to us… As part of the loan arrangement SAIC provided a commitment whereby, in the event of default, SAIC will purchase the ownership interest in SGM that we pledged as collateral for the loan. We recorded an insignificant gain on this transaction in the year ended December 31, 2010.

So, the truth comes out! This arrangement has been hinted at before, but until we obtained the relevant 10-K, the exact amount had never before been reported. So, between the $85m price and the $400m loan, that 1% stake was worth closer to half a billion dollars than the $85m initially reported. That means that, on the one hand GM got a reasonably fair price for the controlling stake in SGM, but on the other hand, as Bertel noted

If Akerson wants it back for whatever unfathomable reason, then it will cost him.

Without knowing exactly what GM got for its 1%, Dunne argues that the deal was “the end of the beginning” for GM’s successful Chinese efforts. And though GM’s ability to regain a 50-50 partnership is still very much in question based on what little we know about the call option’s details, at least GM got significant short-term help for the gambit. And it’s probably no coincidence that GM was able to keep GM-Daewoo (GM-DAT) in the corporate fold when, just weeks before the SAIC share sale was announced, it injected$413m into its Korean subsidiary. At the time, the Korean Development Bank was trying to wrest control of GM-DAT, which would have left GM without its main source of low-cost, fuel-efficient car development. Presumably keeping Daewoo was worth whatever risk now stands between GM and its call option… just as keeping Opel’s development capacity was worth billions in restructuring costs (probably not coincidentally, GM insisted that the Daewoo bailout cash “came from overseas operations”).

In short, GM’s gambit was a far better business move than we initially thought… although it’s also clear that the reasoning it gave at the time was disingenuous at best. But, thanks to Akerson’s “intention” to exercise the option, we also know that GM is not as comfortable as the junior partner in SGM as it initially made it seem, and the RenCen is obviously anxious to reel the decision back in. But what will the buyback end up costing? What “events” need to happen to make the buyback possible? And, since reclaiming the 1% would neither help GM financially or give it more functional control over its JV (as far as we can tell), why is it so intent on buying back that one (presumably) extremely expensive share? As with so many examples in China-US business relations, solving one mystery tends to lead only to more mysteries…

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Chevy To Europe, Opel To China http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/02/chevy-to-europe-opel-to-china/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/02/chevy-to-europe-opel-to-china/#comments Thu, 24 Feb 2011 14:18:12 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=385010 GM is pushing its Chevrolet brand as a ”world brand,” reports the Freep. First battlefields for global bowtiefication: Europe and Korea. In Korea, the matter is easy: Last month, they took off the Daewoo badge and put a bowtie on instead. As predicted by TTAC nearly a year ago. There is not much that can […]

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GM is pushing its Chevrolet brand as a ”world brand,” reports the Freep. First battlefields for global bowtiefication: Europe and Korea. In Korea, the matter is easy: Last month, they took off the Daewoo badge and put a bowtie on instead. As predicted by TTAC nearly a year ago. There is not much that can go wrong in Korea: Hyundai dominates the market, Dawoo’s and now Chevrolet’s market share treads water in the single digits.

In Europe, any substantial market penetration by Chevrolet is “still a long-term goal,” concedes the Freep. And then, the Detroit paper proceeds to publish completely bogus numbers: “Chevrolet sold only 477,000 vehicles in Europe last year, compared with Opel and Vauxhall’s combined 1.2 million,” purports the Freep.

No, they did not. According to official ACEA numbers, Opel’s and Vauxhall’s combined sales in Europe (EU 27 plus EFTA) were 1,006,832 – a number at least in the general neighborhood of 1.2 million. Chevrolet’s sales on the other hand were only 178,730 – a little bit more than a third of what was allegedly sold in Europe. The Freep most likely fell victim to numbers supplied by GM. American companies sometimes have a strange concept of “Europe.”

Trying to introduce Chevrolet to Western Europe would be an exercise in futility. Even Opel/Vauxhall has a hard time there, hanging on to a market share of 7.4 percent – according to ACEA. The bowtie brand has a market share of 1.2 percent – in the same league a BMW’s Mini.

Wayne Brannon, president of Chevrolet Europe told the Freep that Chevrolet wants to exploit its “American” appeal in Europe. Well, good luck with that. Ford wisely stays away from any automotive flag waving. Since Ford is better established in Europe, it seems more European to buyers, Brannon said, leaving the “American” branding open to Chevy. It’s a trap, Mr. Brannon.

At the same time, GM’s European incarnation in Europe, Opel, wants to enter territory where GM is strong: China. “GM China is considering reintroducing its Opel brand to the Chinese market, with Opel executives supplying GM with documents detailing Chinese growth plans,” reports Gasgoo, citing a report in Beijing Times. According to the story, “imported Opel cars would rely on their distinct European characteristics.” Good luck with that also. Many of the Made in China Buicks and Chevys are engineered by Opel. In any case, Opel’s plans for China don’t sound overly ambitious. Says Gasgoo:

“Opel currently has one dealership open in Beijing, selling the Antara SUV, Astra compact and Zafira minivan. The company currently has no plans to expand its dealer network.”

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Daewoo Is Dead http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/01/daewoo-is-dead/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/01/daewoo-is-dead/#comments Thu, 20 Jan 2011 13:11:52 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=381240 We, or rather the Financial Times saw it coming a year ago: “General Motors is considering replacing the Daewoo brand with the Chevrolet name in South Korea.” And so they finally did. “People will not be able to see the silver-colored Daewoo badge in brand-new vehicles down the road as GM Daewoo Auto & Technology […]

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We, or rather the Financial Times saw it coming a year ago: “General Motors is considering replacing the Daewoo brand with the Chevrolet name in South Korea.” And so they finally did.

“People will not be able to see the silver-colored Daewoo badge in brand-new vehicles down the road as GM Daewoo Auto & Technology is set to replace it with the bowtie-shaped Chevrolet emblem in months to come,” reports The Korea Times.

The De-Daewoofication will be complete:  GM Daewoo Auto & Technology will even drop Daewoo from its corporate title sometime over the first quarter.The new name will be “GM Korea Company.

One out of every four Chevy vehicles is produced in Korea, and by changing the name, nobody can say that they are Daewoos.

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GM Considering CVTs In Daewoo-Developed Cars http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/11/gm-considering-cvts-in-daewoo-developed-cars/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/11/gm-considering-cvts-in-daewoo-developed-cars/#comments Tue, 30 Nov 2010 00:27:44 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=374952 AutoWeek reports: GM doesn’t use [Continuously Variable Transmissions] now. But they could be used on models such as the Chevrolet Spark, Aveo and Cruze in the next three years, said Mike Arcamone, CEO of GM Daewoo Auto & Technology. GM will have to improve the mileage on these models by at least 10 percent by […]

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AutoWeek reports:

GM doesn’t use [Continuously Variable Transmissions] now. But they could be used on models such as the Chevrolet Spark, Aveo and Cruze in the next three years, said Mike Arcamone, CEO of GM Daewoo Auto & Technology.

GM will have to improve the mileage on these models by at least 10 percent by the next full-model change, said Sohn Dongyoun, vice president of engineering at GM’s global small- and minicar development team at GM Daewoo. CVTs offer an easy, quick fix, he said.
Nissan has (in my eyes) refined its CVT to the point where it can be downright eager in applications like the Juke, but GM’s track record with the the CVT is less well-proven. GM hasn’t offered the transmission since dropping it as an option from the Saturn Ion coupe and Vue and the Opel Astra in 1995. And Daewoo’s CVT would have to be incredibly good to erase fears left from the previous experience, in which GM paid Saturn owners over $100m in settlements for transmission failure. Sohn’s line about CVTs being a “easy, quick fix” should ring a few alarm bells somewhere in the RenCen.

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Curbside Classic: 1990 Pontiac LeMans – The Lows And Rocky Mt. Highs Of GM’s Deadly Sin #12 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/11/curbside-classic-1990-pontiac-lemans-the-lows-and-rocky-mt-highs-of-gms-deadly-sin-12/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/11/curbside-classic-1990-pontiac-lemans-the-lows-and-rocky-mt-highs-of-gms-deadly-sin-12/#comments Thu, 18 Nov 2010 16:01:08 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=373212 Between the years 1988 and 1993, GM decided to use Americans in a mass experiment, in which I found myself  an unwitting participant. Seemingly unable to determine on its own whether Korean-made cars would pass muster here, GM just sent boatloads of them over and slapped on the storied Pontiac LeMans name, no less. Then […]

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Between the years 1988 and 1993, GM decided to use Americans in a mass experiment, in which I found myself  an unwitting participant. Seemingly unable to determine on its own whether Korean-made cars would pass muster here, GM just sent boatloads of them over and slapped on the storied Pontiac LeMans name, no less. Then it looked for suckers/participants, both long and short term. Oddly enough, one actually had to pay to play. I ponied up for a week’s worth in the summer of 1990, and put it through the most difficult torture possible to try to kill it, in revenge for having been drafted by Hertz to do GM’s work. I hereby submit my results, in the hopes of getting my money back. Oh wait; that was the old GM. Well, someone’s going to pay to hear my evaluation, twenty years late or not.

I’m assuming the overall experiment didn’t go so well even without my input, because GM and Daewoo broke up in 1992, right about when the US-LeMans experiment was ending. It wasn’t the first time Daewoo got kicked out of bed for a poor performance, having previously shared sheets with both Toyota and Datsun.  Daewoo then went through its brief independent single era, which ended in tears and bankruptcy, and back in the General’s loving arms in about 2002 or so, despite the LeMans experiment, or maybe because of it. They were obviously meant for each other.

It was a particularly rude choice of GM to inflict the LeMans onto Americans via Pontiac, since historically the once-proud Indian brand occupied a notch above Chevrolet in the corporate pecking order. And Chevy/Geo was selling some quite decent Japanese cars at the time, both the Corolla-clone Prizm, as well as the Isuzu-built Spectrum. Saturn was also still in its heyday. So why dump this on poor Pontiac?

I suppose one could argue that Pontiac was already the GM cesspool of small cars at the time. Its Chevette-clone 1000 began rotting before it was introduced almost ten years earlier, and the Sunbird was no gem. And there was the not-so Grand Am. How’s another piece of crap dumped on Pontiac going to hurt it? It’s not like it’s going to go under or anything like that.

The Daewoo LeMans actually had some pedigree. It was heavily based on the Opel Kadett E, the lead member of GM’s global T-Platform that found its way around the world. But something go lost in the translation into Korean, because the real McCoy Kadett/Astra was generally able to give the Golf a reasonable run for its money on its home turf.

In the summer of 1990, my younger brother and I both needed a break from our jobs and young families. My parents were heading to the mountains of Colorado for a vacation, so we played hookie and joined them. My rental was a 1990 LeMans four door. It was almost brand new, but felt like it had already spent a lifetime being abused: the steering was sloppy, the suspension felt like all the bushings and shocks were worn, the engine moaned like it was about to die. And the interior was deadly. “Use Me – Abuse Me” was etched all over its thin paint.

With a 74 hp 1.6 L four hooked to a three-speed automatic, the LeMans was feeble enough at Denver’s altitude; but we were heading to Leadville, the highest town in the continental US. Taking the Hwy 6 bypass at the Eisenhower Tunnel to Loveland Pass took us to 12,000 feet, and the Daewoo was already wheezing and staggering with altitude sickness. But that was just the warm up act.

We came here to climb the 14,000 ft. peaks of the Collegiate Range, but my seventy-year old father needed a one day break between hiking, and my mother couldn’t hike at all. So on alternate days, I took them mountain climbing in the LeMans. There are numerous old wagon and mining roads all over that part of the Rockies; I can’t remember exactly which ones we took, but if they were headed up, so did we.

These rough rock and gravel “roads” that sometimes reach 13,000 feet or so are normally the exclusive domain of genuine four wheel drives. In the old days, tall and rugged two-wheel drive trucks were adequate, and I had conquered a few with my old VW Beetle. But a rear-engined high-clearance 15″ wheeled VW is not a low-squatting, FWD LeMans. Just for the record, a light FWD car with four adults aboard on a very steep grade is the worst drive train configuration possible, except perhaps a rear-engined car with front wheel drive, which I don’t remember ever being built (please, someone prove me wrong).[Update: the Dymaxion]

But we gave the LeMans the spurs, and it scrabbled its way up most everything we could find, although I seem to remember backing down one at some point when the wheels just couldn’t find traction anymore. I might have tried going up backwards; if necessary; that’s the way to go up a too-steep hill in a FWD car. We got high enough as it was, and the boulders we scraped on its bottom were fortunately well inside of the rocker panels.

My mother took and sent me the picture above, which was taken on one of our “climbing expeditions”. On the back, she wrote: “this was taken on one of the lower peaks we reached. A triumph for the car and your driving, Paul!” Aw shucks, Mom! I was just doing my job for GM! But I’ll pass on the compliments belatedly.

Since I’ve already hijacked the main LeMans thread, I’ll share another brief story from that trip. My father, a medic, was captured by the Allies near Normandy during WWII, and likely owes his life to being one of a fairly small number of POWs to be sent to the US, where he was well-fed. In the the large POW camps in France, he saw his weight and health decline precipitously, and attended to many starving POWs. Since the war was as good as over by then, his group was sent to various military camps to tear them down. One of them was here at Camp Hale, also near Leadville, where the famous 10th Mountain Division trained before heading to Italy. Here my father stands at the foundations of the buildings he helped dismantle forty-five years earlier. And we got there courtesy of the LeMans.

OK, so the LeMans never gave up regardless of what I dished out. Getting there is one thing, how it feels getting there is what makes the car. And what really put the LeMons into perspective was that my father’s rental was the all-new Mazda 323-based gen2 Ford Escort. The difference between the two was huge. The Escort felt so buttoned down on the (paved) winding roads; it was a pretty impressive small car for the times. Of course, he wouldn’t dare let us compare its climbing abilities to the Daewoo, so that aspect will be forever unknown. But then Ford wasn’t asking us to be their guinea pigs.

Even if Americans didn’t end up embracing the Korean LeMans, it has found a more loving home elsewhere. And a more enduring one too. They’re still being made today as the UzDaewoo Nexia in Uzbekistan (insert Borat joke here).

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Korea Week: Viva La Trax http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/11/korea-week-the-chevy-viva-cometh/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/11/korea-week-the-chevy-viva-cometh/#comments Tue, 16 Nov 2010 04:38:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=372974 GM’s Korean partner GM-Daewoo has an Aveo-based “SUV” in the final stages of design development… and it definitely looks like the 2007 “Chevy Trax” concept, right? Wrong. Of course. Design chief Taewan Kim insists the design is “still not fixed” for production but the detailed study is finished to the sort of standard designers reach […]

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GM’s Korean partner GM-Daewoo has an Aveo-based “SUV” in the final stages of design development… and it definitely looks like the 2007 “Chevy Trax” concept, right? Wrong. Of course.

Design chief Taewan Kim insists the design is “still not fixed” for production but the detailed study is finished to the sort of standard designers reach before wheeling in The Boss to sign it off as ready for production and the interior ‘mock-up’ looked all but sorted to give the suppliers the go for first off-tool samples. Looks? Cameras were banned but think ‘I shrunk the Capitiva’ and you get the idea.

Don’t know what a Captiva is? Well, do you remember the Saturn Vue? No? Well, there’s a new one anyway… take a look after the jump.

Yes, through the power of a secret Korean trade practice of scale auto design cloning, this seven-seat-option Crossover can be perfectly shrunk to Aveo-platform proportions. It’s been done before. Consider the case of the new Kia Sorento and Sportage: can you tell which is which?

But maybe it’s unfair to to suggest that Daewoo will pull the same stunt… after all, Kia’s entry in the “B-Cross” segment, the Soul, is a highly distinctive design and it’s been selling steadily. To have a real shot at the young-in-spirit market for such baby “utes”, Daewoo really should go with a distinctive,  Trax-inspired look. If it’s not already too late.

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