We started our coverage of GM’s Eighties and Nineties branding adventures last week, with the short-lived experiment that was Passport. The dealership network was an amalgamation of GM-owned or influenced brands from Japan, Sweden, and in the case of the Passport Optima, South Korea. Passport lasted from 1987 through 1991 before GM changed directions. In addition to axing an unsuccessful sales channel, Geo and Saturn cars had arrived during Passport’s tenure and made things more complicated. Let’s learn some more about GM’s Canadian dealership networks.
In the Eighties and Nineties, General Motors of Canada decided to try new distribution strategies for its imported cars. Like in the recent Dodge Colt series, General Motors had its own captive import cars and trucks that were manufactured by other brands. But because of dealership arrangements in Canada, GM took things a step further than Chrysler and established a separate distribution network for its imported wares. The efforts lead to the thrilling Passport and Asüna brands for the Canadian market. First up, Passport.
After the Daewoo brand fled these shores in 2002 (leaving Manny, Moe, and Jack in charge of warranty service and the company’s founder on the run from the long arm of the South Korean law), the sprawling GM Empire found a means to continue selling the Leganza and Nubira here: as the Suzuki Verona and Suzuki Forenza/Reno, respectively. Here’s a banged-up Forenza in a Denver yard with the extremely rare five-speed manual transmission.
The years 2008 and 2009 were interesting times for GM, with the company filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on June 1, 2009 and the Pontiac Division clearly on the ropes (despite the Bondo applied over Pontiac’s rusty image by the Solstice).
Would you consider a special-edition version of the Daewoo Nubira’s successor to be worthy of inclusion in this series, even as I walk by 99 out of 100 junked BMW E30s? Hey, if I’m willing to photograph every Mitsubishi Lancer OZ Rally and Geo Storm GSi that I find in the junkyard, then of course a genuine, numbers-matching Suzuki Reno SWT makes the cut!
Since starting doing this goofy car-writing-online gig 13 years ago last month, I have documented the demise of 2,073 discarded vehicles in excruciating detail. During that time, I have walked right past thousands and thousands of allegedly interesting cars and trucks (sorry, BMW 3 Series fans, but I’ve been trying to make it up to you in recent years) in order to obsess over my very favorite kind of junkyard machines: little– known examples of puzzling badge engineering. That means that when I see the South Korean Pontiac LeMans in a junkyard, I photograph it.
Here’s a low-mile, first-model-year LeMans sedan, found in a Denver car graveyard last spring.
Daewoo wasn’t a well-known name in North America in the late 1990s, though quite a few Daewoo-built Pontiac Lemans cars were sold here during the 1988-1993 period. For the 1999 model year, a trio of Daewoo-badged cars appeared on these shores: the Lanos, the Nubira, and the Leganza.
The Leganza was the most luxurious of the Daewoo triumvirate (the bloodline of the Lanos lived on here after Daewoo departed the continent in 2002, as the Chevrolet Aveo and then the Sonic), and I photographed this crashed ’00 in a California self-service wrecking yard.
For most people, not having a brand new car sort of budget can mean scrounging around on AutoTrader, Cars.com, eBay, or even the ever-professional Craigslist for used vehicles. The resulting experiences end up shaping the future of our car ownership, our finances, and perhaps our legal situations in some cases.
Today we want you to know about your sketchiest used car buying experience.
What American car buyers in 2004 really needed was a lengthened Daewoo Leganza with Giorgetto Giugiaro styling, a transverse-mounted straight-six engine, and Suzuki badging … or so GM Daewoo Auto & Technology believed. Not so surprisingly, American car buyers weren’t so excited about the Verona, and these things are now nearly as rare as the similarly puzzling Isuzu Oasis.
Here’s one that I spotted in a San Francisco Bay Area self-service yard.
General Motors brought Opel Kadetts into the United States via several routes over the years. They came from Germany and were badged as Opels at first, Isuzu built “Buick Opels” a bit later, then Isuzu dealers sold them as I-Marks (the Chevette was also a Kadett sibling, but at least it was American-built). By the late 1980s, the Kadett’s American cousin was the Daewoo LeMans, a crappily-built Korean front-wheel-drive miserybox based on the Kadett E. Few were sold, and nearly all of those were three-door hatchback versions.
Here’s an exceptionally rare LeMans sedan, from the next-to-last year of American-market sales, that I spotted last week in a Denver self-service wrecking yard.
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.
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.
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 car shredder. But no, here’s another example that I saw in Denver a couple of weeks ago.
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.
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.