Hammer Time: Daewoo. Worst. Automaker. Ever.

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang
hammer time daewoo worst automaker ever

I used to fly in to do an old auction out in Baltimore. It was a strange place reeking in decrepitude and there were a lot of weird things out there. A 130,000 mile Saab 9000 with no registered owner, ever. A couple of Peugeot 505s with huge attached bumpers that were used to push non-running junk through the block (apologies to Paul Niedermeyer). Oh, and about 300 Daewoos rotting away in no man’s land.

The cars were the product of a bankruptcy. The company that relieved Hyundai from being the worst automaker in North America during the late 1990s went way under by 2002. In only five years, Daewoo had rightly earned one hell of a terrible legacy. A sales network made up of college students—“Hey, dudes! Buy my car!”—and a car line-up with more defects than an “Ernest” movie. Daewoo would eventually give America the worst automotive lineup since . . . well . . . Hyundai.

Daewoo’s entry level car was the Lanos, a car so wretched it actually exceeded the lemon-esque aura of the Hyundai Excel and Kia Sephia. After Daewoo went under, it would, to paraphrase Bill Shatner, “boldly depreciate to price levels no modern car had ever gone before.” The car offered 105 horsepower out of its 1.6L engine, but no one really cared—unless the anti-lock braking system failed. Which was often. The “Check Engine Light” came [on] standard along with interior parts that were cheaper than a Tata Nano. These days most “buy here, pay here” dealers won’t finance these cars because parts are so scarce and liability issues are so rampant.

[As an aside, some Georgia real estate builders are having limited success by offering a free entry level Daewoo (Chevy Aveo) for gullible new home buyers. I wonder if repossessed trailer liquidators would ever offer a used Lanos for free along with a doublewide. Unfortunately this promotion would probably fail since most buyers would actually expect the Lanos to run on its own power.]

The Daewoo Leganza was competitive with a Toyota Camry . . . from 1986 . . . well, not really. The surfaces were knock-on-wood hard and about as cheap as the Neon’s. Dashboards can literally become unglued through Southern heat; the few leatherette seats would eventually decompose faster than Jimmy Hoffa in a New Jersey swamp. (They probably inspired the song “Warm Leatherette.”) The Leganza was a wretched vehicle that should have been rejected from our shores for its sheer utter crapiness.

But the absolute worst of them all was a turd that went by the name of the Daewoo Nubira, a car no doubt named after a Korean bowel movement. Most Nubira owners never got a chance to change their timing belts; they would literally snap off before they were due. As a result, most Nubiras that I see at the auctions have amazingly low miles on them and never, ever, a working engine. The rest of the car was an exercise in automotive immobility, including wheels made of such cheap steel they would regularly go out of round. And I’m thinking electronics that were designed by Dear Leader Kim Jong Il during one of his “off” days.

In times since, Daewoo has actually produced a slew of far better vehicles. Unfortunately, they are still two or three generations (or four) behind the market leaders. Aveo, Reno, Forenza, Verona, whenever “cheap” is demanded by an uncompetitive car manufacturer, the remnants of Daewoo are still out there producing crap . . . or mediocrity. Hopefully, for the sake of our dwindling natural resources, they won’t be doing so for much longer.

Join the conversation
2 of 53 comments
  • Niky Niky on Apr 13, 2009

    Ah... the Forenza... I remember the first generation of rebadged Chevrolet Optras (Forenza)to hit our shores. Engines blowing up due to octane incompatibility... fuel economy to rival a Ford Expedition... handling inert beyond belief... At least they fixed the economy (somewhat) with the current ECU upgrade, but I have never driven a gasoline powered vehicle slower than one of these lemons...

  • Stingray Stingray on Apr 13, 2009

    Daewoos were the choice of taxi cabs here in Venezuela. That, to me, speaks LOTS about a car reliability. If a car behaves poor in that area, taxi drivers just don't buy them, no matter how cheap they are. The Cielo especially. A face lifted Opel Kadett (FWD). And they're still running, with 500K kms on them. Lanos and Nubiras the same. And the Nubira is a very comfortable car. A coworker has a Nubira. The engine, save for the aluminium intake manifold, is the same as the Aveo. The Aveo is built on the same platform of the Lanos The Forenza idem on the Nubira. You want to see a craptastic interior... buy a car built in Brazil. The previous gen VW Gol was a fantastic POS in that area.

  • Denis Jeep have other cars?!?
  • Darren Mertz In 2000, after reading the glowing reviews from c/d in 1998, I decided that was the car for me (yep, it took me 2 years to make up my mind). I found a 1999 with 24k on the clock at a local Volvo dealership. I think the salesman was more impressed with it than I was. It was everything I had hoped for. Comfortable, stylish, roomy, refined, efficient, flexible, ... I can't think of more superlatives right now but there are likely more. I had that car until just last year at this time. A red light runner t-boned me and my partner who was in the passenger seat. The cops estimate the other driver hit us at about 50 mph - on a city street. My partner wasn't visibly injured (when the seat air bag went off it shoved him out of the way of the intruding car) but his hip was rather tweaked. My car, though, was gone. I cried like a baby when they towed it away. I ruminated for months trying to decide how to replace it. Luckily, we had my 1998 SAAB 9000 as a spare car to use. I decided early on that there would be no new car considered. I loathe touch screens. I'm also not a fan of climate control. Months went by. I decided to keep looking for another B5 Passat. As the author wrote, the B5.5 just looked 'over done'. October this past year I found my Cinderella slipper - an early 2001. Same silver color. Same black leather interior. Same 1.8T engine. Same 5 speed manual transmission. I was happier than a pig in sh!t. But a little sad also. I had replaced my baby. But life goes on. I drive it every day to work which takes me over some rather twisty freeway ramps. I love the light snarel as I charge up some steep hills on my way home. So, I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Passat guy.
  • Paul Mezhir As awful as the styling was on these cars, they were beautifully assembled and extremely well finished for the day. The doors closed solidly, the ride was extremely quiet and the absence of squeaks and rattles was commendable. As for styling? Everything's beautiful in it's own way.....except for the VI coupe....it's proportions were just odd: the passenger compartment and wheelbase seemed to be way too short, especially compared to the VI sedan. Even the short-lived Town Coupe had much better proportions. None of the fox-body Lincolns could compare to the beautiful proportions of the Mark V.....it was the epitome of long, low, sleek and elegant. The proportions were just about perfect from every angle.
  • ToolGuy Silhouetting yourself on a ridge like that is an excellent way to get yourself shot ( Skylining)."Don't you know there's a special military operation on?"
  • ToolGuy When Farley says “like the Millennium Falcon” he means "fully updatable" and "constantly improving" -- it's right there in the Car and Driver article (and makes perfect sense).