Founded in South Korea in 1972 as a joint venture between GM and Shinjin Motor, it adopted the name Daewoo Motor in 1983, and produced mildly reworked GM designs for many years.
Daewoo itself is one of the great Korena cheabols: overarching coporations with fingers in many pies, that dominate the lives of their increasingly prosperous employees. Daewoo makes of ships, electronic equipment, cranes, heavy engineering equipment, buses and trucks as well as cars.
Daewoo motor launched itself into the UK by billing itself at the 1994 NEC Motor Show as the 'Biggest Car Company You've Never Heard Of'. It attracted attention by breaking all the rules. Rather than build up a dealer network, it set up its own direct selling operation, using Halfords as its nation-wide service network. New car sales are on a 'no haggle' basis. Ostensibly attractive, there has been criticism that the trade-in prices offered are lower than trade averages - prices which customers are discouraged from trying to negotiate.
Of a number of models available in Korean (it has never imported all of its products), the original UK model was based on the previous-model Opel Kadett/Vauxhall Astra. Then its main export market was to the USE, where it was known as the Pontiac Le Mans. For the UK market, the Le Mans was called the Nexia, where it is sold as either four-door saloon or five-door hatchback, with a 1.5-litre engine.
In 1993 the larger Espero was added, again based on a obsolete Opel/Vauxhall model, the Ascona/Cavalier. Rather than being a direct carry-over, the Espero bodywork was redesigned by Bertone. The cars were obsolete and ugly, and though reasonably equipped sold mainly on price. The true value of the cars was hidden by the inclusion of a generous warranty and servicing package. This captured customers to the Daewoo service operation; but the products' real value became all too apparent at trade-in time.
Helped by the establishment of technical and development centres in the UK and Germany, Daewoo replaced these vehicles with its first totally home-grown cars in 1996 and 1997, Lanos, Nubira and Leganza.
The company added 4x4 vehicles to its range by buying out fellow Korean maker SsangYong in 1998 and added a well-received mini-car, the Matiz, to its range in the same year.
The company's rapid expansion and the late 1990s Asian financial crisis left it financially vulnerable and in 1999 its creditors, concerned by its massive debts, called time. Whilst operationally its future is not in doubt, the company now looks likely to be taken over by an outside interest. Political considerations make a foreign take-over sensitive, but nevertheless the most likely candidate is Daewoo's old partner GM, though other companies, including Ford, have expressed interest.
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