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Daewoo Motors was a South Korean automotive company established in 1983, part of the Daewoo Group. It sold most of its assets in 2001 to General Motors, after running into financial difficulties, becoming a subsidiary of the American company and in 2011, it was replaced by GM Korea.
The company was first established as National Motor in 1937 in Bupyeong-gu, Incheon, Japanese Korea. The name was changed to Saenara Motor in November 1962. Saenara was assembling and selling the Datsun Bluebird PL310. The first automobile company in Korea, Saenara was equipped with modern assembly facilities, and was established after the Automobile Industry Promotion Policy was announced by the South Korean government in 1962. Saenara Motor was then bought by Shinjin Industrial in 1965, which changed its name to Shinjin Motors after establishing collaborations with Toyota.
After Toyota's withdrawal in 1972, Shinjin Motor started a joint venture with General Motors under the name GM Korea, but was renamed again in 1976 to Saehan Motor. GM Korea shortly sold their Rekord under the GM Korea marque, together with the Holden Torana based Chevrolet 1700.
After the Daewoo Group gained control in December 1982, from January 1983, the name was officially changed to Daewoo Motor Co. Until 1996, all cars were based on models from General Motors. All Saehan models were named Daewoos, the Maepsy being refreshed became the Maepsy-Na. The Royale Series models were kept, Daewoo adding the Royale XQ and Royale Duke (March 1982), Royale Prince (July 1983) and Royale Salon Super (March 1986). Above the Royale range, the Daewoo Imperial flagship luxury car was added in 1989, with styling reminiscent of the contemporary Chrysler Imperial and New Yorker, but also luxury Japanese sedans. It was produced until 1993.
The first Daewoo addition was the 1986 Daewoo LeMans, based on the Opel Kadett E. Its three-door versions were called the Racer and the five-door version were called Penta-5. This car had an international ambition for GM, as it was sold almost worldwide, as the Pontiac LeMans, As?na GT and SE, or Passport Optima. This car was produced until February 1997, being one of Daewoo Motor's greatest successes. In 1986, Daewoo also offered a badge-engineered version of the Nissan Vanette.
In 1987, they created the Espero, designed by Bertone, initiating a tradition at Daewoo Motor of models created by Italian designers. Daewoo Heavy Industries (DHI) introduced in 1991, the Tico mini car, which was sold at Daewoo Motor's dealers. DHI was also selling since 1981 the Damas minivan and the Labo mini pickup, all three being based on Suzuki models. When the Royale Series range was discontinued, its models were slightly refreshed and offered under the Prince and Super Salon or Brougham model names until respectively 1997 and 1999.
In 1992, the joint-venture with General Motors ended, leaving Daewoo Motor as an independent company.
In 1994, Daewoo started importing the second generation Honda Legend to replace the discontinued flagship Imperial, under the name of Arcadia. This year, the LeMans also got a slight refresh, and all variants (three, four and five-door) were then sold under the Cielo model name.
The first authentic Daewoo Motor product, the Lanos, was introduced in late 1996. It spawned three variants: four-door, three-door, called Romeo, and a five-door, the Juliet, being the first model of a whole new family of cars to be created. Styling was by Giorgetto Giugiaro's Italdesign firm. One of its main features was the new three-parts corporate grill, reminiscent of the Daewoo Motor emblem, which was to be used on many of the following Daewoo cars. In February 1997, the Nubira was launched, the first Daewoo model to be produced in their then new Kunsan motor plant. It was designed by the Italian-based I.DE.A Institute. In March 1997, the mid-sized Leganza followed, also designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro, borrowing some styling cues from the existing 1990 Jaguar Kensington concept car.
In 1998 one of Daewoo's best known cars was introduced, the Matiz. The design was again signed by Giorgetto Giugiaro and based on his 1992 "Lucciola" concept car, which was initially imagined as a replacement for the Fiat Cinquecento. This car became Daewoo Motor's best-seller for the next four years. In 1999, Daewoo presented the Magnus, which was a development of the existing Leganza. Sold in Korea, alongside the Leganza, until the end of the latter's production in 2002, it existed in two variants: Classic and the sportier Eagle. The Rezzo minivan was also introduced in early 2000. The Matiz, Lanos and Nubira got a mid-life facelift in 2001. In 2002, the Magnus L6 was introduced, equipped with Daewoo's first straight-six engine, with a new front grill and lamps. The same year, Daewoo also presented the Kalos subcompact, designed to replace the Lanos.
Before the General Motors buyout, Daewoo cars were available in different countries.
In Europe, Daewoo Motor started selling the Espero and the Cielo (or Nexia) from the beginning of 1995, and achieved reasonable sales success, particularly with British buyers, where Daewoo proved popular largely due to its competitive prices and revolutionary dealership network, where cars were sold at fixed prices with a revolutionary aftersales service which included free servicing for three years. In 1996, it gained a 1% share of the new car market in Britain with some 20,000 sales.
The European Daewoo range was updated in 1997 with the launch of the Lanos, Nubira and Leganza from 1997. The Matiz city car was released in 1998, and was a great success for the company, most notably in non-Asian countries such as Italy, where it won many awards such as the Car of the Year award three times in a row, in 1998, 1999 and 2000.
The Rezzo (or Tacuma), Evanda (Magnus) and Kalos models were then released, before the SsangYong-based SUVs : Korando, Musso and Rexton. After the General Motors buyout, the Daewoo models received a new badge, and were sold under the Daewoo name until 2003. The Lacetti was the last car to bear a Daewoo badge in Europe. The other Daewoo models were later rechristened as Chevrolets.
Daewoo cars were also available in the United States and Canada between 1997 and 2002, Australia and many other countries, until Daewoo's bankruptcy. Since Daewoo's withdrawal from many markets, the Lanos was replaced with Chevrolet's as the Aveo, whereas the Nubira and Leganza were given replacements from either the Chevrolet or Suzuki brands.
In January 2005, the Chevrolet brand was introduced in Europe, the whole Daewoo range being simply re-badged as Chevrolet. General Motors' official tagline was that:
“Daewoo has grown up enough to become Chevrolet.”
It was also considered that this new name was an opportunity for Daewoo to become stronger. Unofficially, after Daewoo's bankruptcy, former chairman Kim Woo-Choong's escape and most notably the "Daewoo Affaire" in France (closure and conflagration of the Daewoo-Orion Electronics plant in Longwy, France), the Daewoo brand name had a very bad image, so that GM simply decided to extend the Chevrolet strategy that was already used in most other markets (Canada, India, Israel, Russia) since 2003 to create a real global brand, replacing the Daewoo "dual kidney" with the Chevrolet "bowtie".
The Winstorm and Tosca were presented as the Chevrolet Captiva and the Chevrolet Epica. Some of the former Daewoo models changed their names after the re-branding decision. Examples are the Matiz which became Chevrolet Spark in some markets (although Chevrolet Matiz was also used), or the Kalos which became the Aveo (alongside the Chevrolet Kalos in other countries). Later, the tendency went towards a uniformisation in the Chevrolet Europe range: the Spark and the Cruze bear the same model names throughout all European markets.
However, besides in South Korea, the Daewoo brand continued to exist in some overseas markets several years after its replacement with Chevrolet, particularly in those countries where Daewoo Motors' former facilities were not part of the General Motors take over plan. Examples of markets where it continued to be used for former Daewoo models are Romania (Daewoo Automobile Romania, until 2008), Ukraine (ZAZ, licensed production, under the Daewoo brand until 2012), Egypt (Daewoo Motor Egypt, until 2012) and, as an exception, Vietnam (VIDAMCO, which was a wholly owned subsidiary of GM Daewoo, produced models under the Daewoo brand until 2011, when it was discontinued in South Korea). Furthermore, the brand continued to exist in Uzbekistan (as Uz-DaewooAuto) until 2015, whereas in Poland the Daewoo models continued to be produced (under the FSO brand) until 2008.
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