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Daewoo Motors is a South Korean automaker with a complex and fertile business history. Established by Daewoo Group (sometime one of the largest conglomerates in the country) in 1982, the company has operated as a standalone facility not for long. Nonetheless, its inventory counts dozens of vehicles, well-known across the world. Let’s get a closer look at them.
It should be noted that from the very origins of the automotive industry, Daewoo produced cars based on General Motors lineup of vehicles. The manufacture was legitimated by a joint-venture agreement. For example, Saehan makes were called Daewoo, Maepsy and Maepsy-Na; the Royale Series was replenished by XQ, Duke, Prince, Salon Super, and Daewoo Imperial (luxury) models (within the 1982-1989 period).
Apart from GM-like vehicles, in 1986 Daewoo produced a car, based on Opel Kadett: the Racer (a 3-door version) and the Penta-5 (a 5-door version). That year the automaker released one more addition – a badge-engineered version of Nissan Vanette.
In 1990 Daewoo switched to the other template of manufacturing with an emphasis on Italian design. Hence, a new Espero, created by Bertone, appeared in the market. In 1992 the company discontinued a longstanding cooperation with General Motors and commenced operations as a standalone unit.
Independent Pathway (1992-2001)
It was not until 1996 that Daewoo began manufacturing its first authentic product - the Lanos family. The car was released in three versions – 4-door, Romeo 3-door & Juliet 5-door – which immediately became hits among customers. The family boasted a sophisticated Italian design, elaborated by Giorgetto Giugiaro. Its other distinctive feature was the usage of a totally new corporate emblem.
In 1997 the company managed to give birth to another vehicle, manufactured in a proprietary Kunsan motor factory, – the Nubira. Similarly to the Lanos family, it was elaborated by Italian designers. In a few months Daewoo released a mid-sized Leganza that was a modernized version of the Jaguar Kensington concept car.
A year later, Giorgetto Giugiaro, an erstwhile permanent begetter of Daewoo’s inventory, created one more South Korean masterpiece – the Matiz. The vehicle became the company’s best-seller and a key pride of the whole nation. In 2001 three abovementioned families were modernized.
In 1999 an improved version of existing Leganza – the Magnus – saw the light of day. This make was available in two variants: Classic and Eagle (sports car). A bit later, Daewoo introduced the Rezzo minivan, the Kalos subcompact and the Magnus L6; the latter was differentiated by the integration of the Daewoo’s proprietary straight-six engine.
Back under GM’s Wing
In 1999 Daewoo Group suffered huge financial troubles, following a general Asian crisis. It ended up as a bankrupt with more than $80 billion debt obligations. This misfortune made the once-flourishing conglomerate sell its automotive industry. General Motors (Korean subsidiary) was the one to acquire Daewoo Motors in 2001, beating such outstanding candidates as Hyundai, Ford Motor Company and DaimlerChrysler.
The change in management resulted in the rebadging of many Daewoo’s models as GM’s ones for international markets (i.e. Buick, Holden, Chevrolet, Suzuki). The ‘Daewoo’ brand was kept only for the domestic and Vietnam markets till 2011.
Despite monetary issues and the switch of management, Daewoo has managed to gain a strong overseas presence and a universal acclaim. Thus, during 1998-2003 the company was performing strongly in the Ukrainian market. It bought a share in the local AvtoZAZ automotive industry and created the AvtoZAZ-Daewoo joint venture. In 2002 the first batch of the Lanos vehicles was released in Ukraine. Later on, the venture adopted a full-blown production of ZAZ Lanos. In addition, local facilities allowed manufacturing there a Daewoo-developed version of Chevrolet Aveo.
Moreover, at different times Daewoo acquired facilities in Uzbekistan (UzDaewooAuto venture), Romania (Romanian Daewoo Motor), Poland (Daewoo-FSO venture), Russia (a low-volume assemblage of Leganza, Nubira and Lanos families at TagAZ-Doninvest plant).