Just one of many indignities heaped upon the storied US marque by its abusive parent, General Motors.
Chevrolet is a truly iconic automotive name. The company was founded in 1911 by Swiss-born racing car driver and motor engineer Louis Chevrolet. His partners in the new venture were his brother, Arthur, and William C. Durant. The latter had been fired by General Motors in 1910, just two years after he had co-founded GM to be a holding company for The Buick Motor Company, which he owned, and the simultaneously acquired Olds Motor Works, manufacturer of Oldsmobile cars.
The US auto industry evolved very rapidly in the second decade of the 20th Century. Chevrolet fell out with Durant in 1914 and sold his share in the fledgling but already successful company. The automaker continued to thrive, to the extent that Durant was able to buy a controlling stake in General Motors in 1918, folding Chevrolet in as another division of the rapidly growing conglomerate.
In the years that followed, General Motors tried to make sense of its divisions by establishing a hierarchy of marques, bookended by Chevrolet at the bottom and Cadillac at the top. Chevrolet was the car for the everyman and would now be described by marketing types as the ‘value proposition’, offering more size, space and power for the dollar than its more upmarket stablemates. Its bottom-rung positioning did not prevent it, like direct rival Ford, offering a wide range of cars. Many were hugely successful and established model names such as Corvette, Camaro and Impala in the lexicon of US automotive history.
There were, of course, low points too. The rear-engined 1960 Corvair, GM’s response to the invasion of the VW Beetle, was heavily criticised for its alleged wayward handling at the limit and lambasted in Ralph Nader’s 1965 book, ‘Unsafe at Any Speed’. Even more unforgivable in your author’s view was the 1970 Chevrolet Vega, a car so poorly designed and hastily developed that a myriad of problems quickly emerged, from excessive engine vibration that caused ancillaries to fall off and valve stems to break, to rampant corrosion caused by inconsistent rust-proofing.
The Corvair’s problems were largely of Chevrolet’s own making, but the Vega had been developed by an independent team of fifty engineers that reported directly to GM President, Ed Cole. It was foisted onto Chevrolet without any input from that division’s engineers. Chevrolet’s then General manager, a certain John Zachary DeLorean, gritted his teeth and described the Vega at launch as “the highest quality product ever built by Chevrolet.”(2) It was not the first time Chevrolet had suffered abuse at the hands of its GM overlords, and it certainly would not be the last.
All of which brings us (finally!) to the subject of today’s piece, the incomprehensible decision of General Motors in 2005 to rebrand South Korean Daewoo cars as Chevrolets for the European market.
Before we get to that, some more history: the Daewoo Group is a giant South Korean ‘Chaebol’, which loosely translates as ‘conglomerate’. It was founded in 1967 and has been involved in businesses as diverse as construction, marine engineering, consumer electronics, passenger transport services, commercial vehicles and, of course, passenger cars. The latter commenced in 1978 with Daewoo’s acquisition of a stake in Saehan Motors, although the company was not renamed Daewoo Motor until 1983 when Daewoo assumed full management control. Saehan Motors was previously named GM Korea from 1972 to 1976, a 50:50 joint venture between GM and Sinjin Motors that had produced the Opel Rekord D and Holden Torana LJ for the Korean market. GM maintained a stake in Daewoo Motor until 1992.
Daewoo Motor first started exporting to Europe in 1995. In the UK, the company pioneered a new offer to potential buyers, which included fixed but very competitive pricing and a three-year servicing package outsourced to Halfords, a UK motor parts and accessories chain. The offer was attractive to buyers who hated the idea of haggling for a better price and liked the inclusive servicing package. In 1996, its first full year of operation, Daewoo sold around 20,000 cars in the UK, representing a 1% market share, a very credible achievement. More broadly, Daewoo’s European sales in 1997 were 98,130 units(3) representing a 0.73% market share.
However, trouble was on the horizon in the shape of a financial crisis that swept through Asia between 1997 and 1999. Daewoo Group’s initial response was to buy up other troubled companies, but it became hopelessly overextended and had to file for bankruptcy in 1999. As part of a prolonged restructuring, Daewoo Motor’s assets were eventually sold in 2002 for US $1.2 billion. The buyer was none other than General Motors and the acquisition was reincorporated as a wholly-owned subsidiary and Asian division of the US giant.
Despite the turmoil surrounding its parent company, Daewoo’s European sales continued to grow and peaked in 2000 at 208,296 units, a 1.39% market share. There followed two years where sales and market share dipped, but new models saw these numbers recover in 2004 to roughly the same levels seen in 2000.
Here are the full European sales data from 1997 to 2004:
GM appeared to believe that, despite this apparently credible performance, a lack of name recognition was inhibiting further sales growth. Its solution, announced with great fanfare at the Paris motor show in September 2004, was the reintroduction of the Chevrolet marque to Europe via a new subsidiary, Chevrolet Europe GmbH, which would be headquartered in Zurich in tribute to the company’s founder, Louis Chevrolet(4). What initial excitement there might have been was quickly quelled by the realisation that the cars to be sold in Europe under the Chevrolet banner would not be sourced from Detroit but from Bupyeong and would be as all-American as San-Nakji(5).
As in the US, Chevrolet was to be pitched as GM’s ‘value proposition’ in Europe. GM thought that, if Chevrolet could compete directly with Ford as it did in its home market, then Opel and Vauxhall could be bumped upmarket to challenge Volkswagen. The problem was that the market already perceived the GM Europe twins as competitors to Ford rather than Volkswagen and they had been priced accordingly, often heavily discounted for fleet sales.
The Chevrolet range initially comprised facelifted and rebadged Daewoo Models, where Chevrolet’s gold ‘bow-tie’ replaced Daewoo’s waterfall three-part front grille. There was the Matiz city car, Daewoo’s previous best-seller, the Kalos three and five-door B-segment supermini, the Lacetti four-door saloon, five-door hatchback and estate and the Tacuma MPV. There was one new offering to unveil, albeit in pre-production form(6). The Chevrolet Captiva was shown at the 2004 Paris show. This was a mid-size crossover developed by Daewoo and closely related to the Opel / Vauxhall Antara.
Autocar magazine tested the Captiva in early 2007 and was complimentary about its handsome looks, space and flexibility. The reviewer was, however, concerned by the relatively high price of the top-spec LTZ model tested, which was undercut by the similarly equipped Hyundai Santa Fe to the tune of about £3,000. It was summarised as a “middle of the road kind of car that neither irritates you nor knocks you sideways with its achievements” and was duly awarded three stars out of five.
Chevrolet chose to follow the Captiva with a car that was either brave or crazy, depending on your perspective. The Epica was a large D-segment saloon with a 2.0-litre straight-six engine mounted transversely and driving the front wheels(7). In the UK, it was launched in April 2008 at a price of just £13,595 which included air-conditioning, alloy wheels, cruise control, electric windows and an MP3/CD player, all for less than the cheapest diesel-engined Ford Focus. Of more relevance to potential buyers was the option of a four-cylinder diesel engine, albeit for an extra £1k.
The Epica was a huge amount of car for the money and perfectly competent, not the “Epic Fail” that one UK automotive journalist dubbed it. However, it would take a great leap of faith to buy one over the established marques, so buyers stayed away in their droves.
So, a less than auspicious start for Chevrolet’s European relaunch. Perhaps new and more Eurocentric models in the pipeline will give the company some much-needed distinctiveness? We shall see in Part Two of this series.
(1) The tag-line used in Dawwoo’s UK advertising was ‘That’ll be the Daewoo’.
(2) Conclusive proof that Americans do, after all, understand irony, I would contend.
(3) Sales data from www.carsalesbase.com.
(4) I would be surprised if this decision was based on sentiment rather than hard financial and fiscal logic.
(5) A Korean delicacy made from raw long-arm octopus, which remains alive up to the point it is sliced up and served.
(6) Production of the Captiva would not commence until 2006.
(7) Was this format unique to the Epica? I cannot think of another transverse-engined FWD car that featured a straight-six engine?
65 thoughts on “That’ll be the, er…Chevrolet? (Part One)”
Re comment 7, lately Volvo with the S80 and variants, and earlier Austin/British Leyland.
The Austin/Leyland cars the ADO17 SIII Austin,Morris, & Wolseley 2200 and the ADO 71 Princess and the Australian YDO 13/YDO 19 Austin Tasman/Kimberley. All had transverse straight sixes driving the front wheels, in Volvo’s case AWD was also available.
You beat me to it, David. However, I was unaware of the YDO 13/YDO 19.
The Daewoo brand had gained some traction and brand recognition (I’m talking from a Dutch perspective here). Back in the late nineties they ran an ad campagne that worked for them. The idea was you would hang the add in your window and when someone from Daewoo would come to your house and see the add they’d give you a new Daewoo. There were quite a few adds to be seen in certain areas if my memory serves me correctly.
The Netherlands is of course completely insignificant in terms of new car sales volume and I know absolutely nothing about marketing, but it seems a bit of a waste to me to rebrand your cars once you gained some brand recognition. Granted, Chevrolet is a familiar name, but they only sold few cars here anyway and they are/were associated with larger cars.
As covered earlier on DTW, https://driventowrite.com/2017/11/15/impossible-princess-vanden-plas-1800/ ,the YDO twins nearly had a British counterpart. (And for some obscure reason the Austin twins were badged Morris in NZ, and to keep it current we saw, in NZ,most of these Daewoo/Chevrolets badged as Holdens- no doubt one of the things contributing to the collapse in Holden brand value).
David, from what I occasionally glimpsed of Holden’s portfolio from the other side of the world (I’m Dutch like Freerk) seemed awfully haphazard, not wholly unlike the story that will unfold in this series, I reckon. One locally designed and produced car and a whole lot of random GM products from around the globe. I can understand Australia/NZ being too small a market for a full model portfolio, but keeping Holden as the specialist brand with one or two models and selling the rest as one of GM’s other brands would have seemed more logical to me.
Then again, also like Freerk, I know nothing of marketing.
From a Dutch perspective I vaguely remember the Chevrolet/Daewoo swap being perceived as something of a boost for… Chevrolet. The Corvette played no significant part in the Dutch market, I think, and any local perception of Chevrolet wouldn’t have been overly positive (apart from a select group of enthusiasts who took the time to sort out the worthwile Chevy models, but they were thin on the ground). It’s quite remarkable how little notion GM seemed to have of the brand equity (or lack thereof) of its marques. This may also explain why Opel kept churning out very nice designs without really getting the plaudits for it.
Using Chevrolet as a catch-all brand for stray models seems very similar to how the marque is treated in South America, though.
Tom V, Holden’s product planning seemed to be a case of throwing everything into the showrooms in the hope something would sell. And we got some awfully strange stuff. Haphazard describes it well. To a large extent Holden were “The Commodore Company”. Their smaller cars varied between rebadged Opels, Daewoos, Suzukis, with the occasional Toyota or even Chevrolet (Malibu, of all things!), chopping and changing depending on the exchange rate and inter-divisional politics for all I know. Some smaller Holdens were great, while others were mediocre to woeful. That’d be the Daewoos. With no product consistency, people didn’t trust the smaller Holdens, and once the big RWD cars which had been their mainstay fell from favour in the teens, that left Holden as a company falling downmarket at a prodigious rate, buoyed only by pickup sales.
GM didn’t have much choice in Australia but to stay with Holden after Vauxhall, Chevrolet, and Pontiac were dropped in the early 70s. But NZ persisted for a while longer with other GM brands. Vauxhall Chevettes were assembled here alongside Holden’s ‘T’ car the Gemini, though we never got the last of the Victors, the FE. The Vauxhall brand was nearly reintroduced with the new 2nd gen Astra, and some were sold as Opels before the strange decision was made to sell them as the Pontiac LeMans. The matching next size up car to fit under the Commodore was to be the new Vectra A in 1989, sold again as an Opel.
But in 1994 the decision was made that all models sold by GM New Zealand would be Holdens and the Vectra was relaunched as a Holden. As part of the promotion, every household in the country was sent a plastic Vectra key, one of these keys would fit a new Vectra at a Holden dealer and the holder of the fitting key would win a real metal key and the new Vectra that went with it.
Unfortunately as each Holden dealer had a Vectra to try and thousands of plastic keys were being tried out in each car’s ignition, enough plastic had scraped off enough keys that five cars started up and were claimed instead of only the one intended.
To their credit, GM management honoured the deal and five cars were given away to lucky key holders.
There was another example of how carelessly GMH treated their brand equity in Australia and NZ They sold the Opel Corsa, assembled in Europe, and imported, as the Holden Barina complete with it’s four star NCAP safety rating, but sourcing from Europe was becoming expensive, so it was replaced by another car, sourced from Korea, also badged as the Holden Barina. But it was only an NCAP two star car and didn’t have near the chassis finesse or build details or quality as the former Opel. Cooling system and electrical and ABS problems were common.
A family friend who had over thirty years always bought a new small car every two years from her local GM dealer noticed the changes for the worse, cancelled her Opel/Barina trade-in and never bought another GM product.
Many others did the same. (She bought a Honda Jazz eventually.)
Holden Barina 2004 (Opel Corsa)
Holden Barina 2006 (Daewoo Kalos)
Thanks Peter. The Commodore (and Caprice) weren’t a lot to sustain a marque. For a brief period, they also had the home grown Torana, whose second iteration didn’t look half bad, I think:
Still, developing the Commodore, and maintaining development at the level they did, was an achievement in itself.
Also the Freelander 2 came with the same 3.2 inline 6 cylinder fitted transversely.
Tom V, something’s been bugging me about that Torana pic since you posted it, and it’s not just the number plate. I thought it was just that it lacked the SL’s full wheel covers and had odd contrasting-painted wheels. Just this morning I realised it lacks the usual ‘3300’ (or 4.2) badge behind the headlight – which means someone ordered a fancy SL with the base 2850 six. I’d thought they had the 3300 as standard, but it seems not.
Hi Peter. Tom’s photo of the Holden Torana and your mention of the engine capacity piqued my interest. I was amazed to read that a previous generation Torana, the 1972 to 1974 LJ model, was offered with engines ranging from a 1.2-litre inline four to a 3.3-litre inline six. The 1974 to 1976 LH model pictured was offered with engines ranging from a 1.9-litre inline four to a 5.0-litre V8. That range must be some sort of record, unless DTW’s highly knowledgeable readership knows otherwise, of course.
That model, the LH Torana, in the photo was available with 1.9 litre fours, 2.85 and 3.3 litre sixes, and 4.2 and 5.0 litre V8s. As were the following VB and VC Commodores. All these in the same length bodyshell. In the previous LJ Torana, the four cylinder cars kept the short bonnet and wheelbase of the Vauxhall Viva that they essentially were.
The first Torana, the HB. (i.e. same as HB Viva.) 1.2 litres.
The second Torana, the LH, four cylinder with original 95.8 inch wheelbase
The second Torana, the LH six, with 100 inch wheelbase. (In sporty two door GTR form.)
And just to bring things back to the subject at hand, the LJ Holden Toranas were also sold in South Korea as the Chevrolet 1700, then the Saehan Camina, until Saehan changed their name to…
In terms of range of sizes, the Cadillac CTS has 5 engines, with displacements from 2.0 to 6.2 litres.
David: thanks a lot! GM seems to have shipped its clown shoes with bullseyes painted on them (so managers know where to shoot) all over the world. I’m not sure I see why GM couldn’t re-introduce a brand besides Holden in Australia, though. I can understand why GM made the decisions it made, mostly, since the financials are hard to argue with. The “subterfuge” of naming two completely different cars “Holden Barina” is just too transparent, though. How to destroy brand equity in one easy lesson.
Peter: the Wikipedia page I plucked the picture of the Green Torana from said that this particular car was from Indonesia, so that might explain the confusing badging.
Daniel and Peter: the range of engines is quite something. Maybe the AC Ace/Cobra comes close with 2.0l to 4.7l engines? The smaller engines were already six cylinders, though.
I guess “That’ll be the Daewoo” is a clever pun on “that’ll be the day” ? Didn’t anybody tell the ad agency that John Waynes original use of the line was meant ironically, as in “it will never happen.” ?
It could have been worse. Imagine if they;d used Buddy Holly’s fifties classic “That’ll be the Day” as a theme song? 🙂
Wasn’t Dawewoo the company that hired some prisoners for production line jobs because their CEO thought that would bring some spice to the workforce?
The thing about Daewoo is that they abused Harry Belafonte’s banana song for a commerical
Chevrolet Europe was not alone in having their HQ in Zürich as GM Europe’s seat always had been there. Like many US companies GM set up business in Switzerland because it is not a member of the Communist EU.
I read somewhere that Skoda, in the ´80s, employed prisoners in their factories, too…
Good morning all and thank you for your comments. Regarding transverse straight-six engines, I really should have remembered the BMC/BL cars, given the amount of coverage they receive on DTW!😨
And the Volvos. 🙂
Hi David, My excuse for not remembering Volvo was that they, as a matter of principle, no longer use IC engines with more than four cylinders, and I had forgotten about the earlier cars. In any event, that footnote was a last-minute addition, clearly not properly considered! 😁
It’s only cars. 😉
GM had already used the Chevrolet name for selling Opel products in South America, so called captive imports. Perhaps they thought it could be used as a blank placeholder name for any GM products anywhere around the globe? If it worked in South America why wouldn’t it work in Europe selling captive imports from South Korea? Or so I guess they thought.
But I remember how utterly stupid I thought that decision was. If Chevrolet had any brand recognition in Europe it wasn’t that of cheap econo-boxes but muscle cars and land yachts. It was the decade of suspicious re-brandings like they thought the Europeans didn’t have a clue? GM sold the thinly disguised Pontiac Trans Sport as the Chevrolet Trans Sport, the Oldsmobile Alero became the Chevrolet Alero, and most puzzling of all; the Dodge Viper became the Chrysler Viper like we had never heard of the car before?
Chevrolet became the GM rebrand in South Africa and The Middle East, rebranded Opels, Vauxhalls and Holdens.
Not a Vauxhall.
Not an Opel
Not a Holden
But kudos to both the designer and the management letting it through making the rear light cluster on the Matiz looking like someone holding up a balloon! I’ve actually never noticed it before, but it seems to obvious now to just be a coincidence. Love frivolities like that….
Daewoo tried to be funny with the Matiz and gave us this TV ad
In Poland, of course, Daewoo became was incredibly popular in lat 90’s early 2000’s as they bought and modernised FSO factory in Warsaw. They were building Lanos and Matiz there, plus they still maintained production of the obsolete Polonez line (they gave it a new dashboard and prolonged its live until 2002). I think acquisition of FSO was really showing everything wrong with Daewoo. They bought a nearly bankrupt, obsolete factory, while agreeing to unreasonable conditions imposed by labor unions, such as no layoffs or maintaining Polonez production. No other company was willing to agree to this. Daewoo was making such unreasonable decisions all over the world, as part of its rapid credit-based growth.
The cars themselves were quite good, given the modest experience of their maker. For many, it was the first car that was not a communist product, so it was still big improvement in most ways. While they have rather completely disappeared from Polish roads, whole production line and huge part of still road going cars were exported to Ukraine, where Lanos are still extremely popular.
I recently read on curbside classic about the abysmal quality and durability of these cars, where readers were surprised that some Daewoo unit was still running. It reminded me of how differently Europeans and Americans view the durability of different car models.
The difference in culture is that of seeing the car as an appliance or something that needs a little bit of care? The American way is buying a cheap car, don’t read the manual, never change the oil, never keep up the service, running it to the ground and buying something new when it eventually dies because of lack of care. Quality for Americans = For how long can I drive the car before it need fixing? In countries where car ownership isn’t that disposable, people have learned to fix and mend their cars because if the car gives up, buying another one is a fortune away. People in countries like Poland, having been grown up on Fiat 126’s know how to service their cars so that the cars can have such a long life as possible. And compared to the 126 the Matiz was the better car? Well that is my guess anyway….
The Chevrolet brand, despite its long pre-war tradition here, may not have been as popular as Daweoo (except for a brief episode with the Aveo, it was not produced in PL), but it slowly built popularity and reputation. So what did GM decide to do? Withdraw the brand from Europe. These cars were really good value for money. But what can we say… it’s GM
I had the good fortune to drive an Epica, some time around 2010. The experience proved sufficiently pleasant for me to consider it as a replacement vehicle should the current 406 reach the end of its service life. There´s an Epica parked near me with a “sport” badge in the only colour this car was ever sold in, black. If they´d wanted to sell more of them they might have done better to focus on the 4 cylinder cars (did they sell them in the UK?). Did the Epica not meet success because it was too big for the price? This is a version of the price/size compromise not often seen. Usually a product is too small for the price.
Richard, it looks like the UK only got 6 cylinder cars and a diesel. I found 3 for sale, at around £2k.
I think that people who want large saloons are looking for a bit of luxury and prestige to go with them – even taxis, these days.
Who had the idea that Daewoos should have names like eating disorders or epic failures?
Even though there were certain perceptions across the Atlantic regarding Chevrolet as a marque, as it was pitched as a direct rival to Ford (who were similarly known elsewhere for pony cars, muscle cars and land yachts) surely it would have made sense for GM to rebrand Opel/Vauxhall and Holden as Chevrolet sometime between the 1980s to 1990s when brand loyal was declining? Together with bringing over Cadillac and Europeanising it beforehand for GM Europe’s RWD cars e.g. KAD and successors along with alternate D-F Segment V Platform family (via a 1976 Vauxhall VX Prestige type theme that evolves into something amounting to a Europeanized 4th/5th gen Seville going into the late 1980s to 1990s).
Did wonder about the potential of curiously named Daewoo-developed XK6 (no relation) inline-Six engine that was said to have been co-developed with Porsche (who also supposedly aided Volvo with their own Six), it was said to have originally been designed to displace around 2-2.5-litres and had an engine length of about 642mm yet was there room for further growth like with Volvo’s own Sixes?
On the subject of FWD Sixes. Does Volvo’s Inline-Six FWD layout provide a open to how BMC could have evolved or would they have been better off going with a V6 FWD layout, as the Buick V6 and GM 60-degree V6 engines have been mounted transversely in certain models?
As the US was home to real Chevrolets, in America GM rebadged Daewoo products as Suzukis. These were the products of the Ulrich Bez era, designed by ItalDesign Giugiaro and so had a certain appeal. The Lacetti wagon, called Forenza as a Suzuki, was particularly handsome and was one of the last compact station wagons available here. The Suzuki lineup was all over the place at the time, comprising actual Suzukis alongside JVs with Fiat and GM and a rebadged Nissan pick up truck, as well as the Daewoos.
Great article Daniel, thank you! I always enjoy these tales of misjudged management lol
My instinct tells me that GM would have been better to have just kept them as Daewoos. People probably would have accepted them better had they remained under their original name.
And if they really wanted to introduce Chevrolet to Europe, they should have kept them American; big and bold. There’s a certain desirably about American cars that some enjoy, so lean into that, rather than going in what was basically the polar opposite with Daewoo.
How to do this? Rebrand the Vauxhall Omega as a Chevy, give it a nice interior, grill etc, play around with its settings and market them as a big, semi luxurious car. Then create a bunch of Jeep type cars to play off the Chevy suburban brand.
That’s just my 2 cents of course
And worth every penny, JCC! 😁
Joking aside, you’re right. Whatever perception (if any) Europeans had of Chevrolet, it certainly wasn’t aligned to what the rebadged Daewoo models offered. Daewoo had built up a decent image in Europe and was ticking along nicely before the misjudged rebranding exercise.
In Latin America Chevrolet was what you would call Brazilian-built Opels and CKD Daewoos:
One exception is Venezuela, which due to its traditionally stronger US influence, had mostly US-sourced Chevrolet (and Ford, Chrysler, Jeep,..) products. Brazilian-sourced Chevrolets started arriving as CKD in the 1980s.
It seems that for GM, Chevrolet used to be the blanket international brand.
Hi Cesar. That’s an interesting selection of non-US Chevrolets. The one that’s new to me is the coupé version of the Opel Ascona C. It clearly took its design cues (and its name) from the larger Opel Monza coupé. Here’s a contemporary publicity photo:
Is it just me, or is his shirt made out of the same fabric as her coat? 😁
Hi Charles. Apart from the crimes against good taste, that is slightly creepy, don’t you think?😝
Daniel, yes – very creepy (as well as being hilarious) and I’ve been trying to work out why I find it so unsettling. I think it’s partly because it implies you have a ‘family uniform’. Who would actually agree to wear something like that? Some people must do, as there are 14 pages of outfits to choose from.
One of my ‘favourites’ was where the men’s version of the outfit has a bow-tie, while the women’s one has an identical bow, but tied at the waist. Just amazing.
Looking at the South American built Chevrolet-badged Opels and one can easily see how the Chevrolet marque could have been applied in Europe and Australia from the 1980s to 1990s onwards, vaguely reminiscent to how Nissan phased out Datsun by 1986.
It just makes sense rationally, even if it does not quite click on an emotional, brand perception and residual marque loyalty level, not helped of course by GM experiencing its own Ford of Europe down period from late-1980s to early-1990s it never really recovered from.
Do agree with the idea that Daewoo should have not been rebranded to denote its position within GM as its answer to Dacia, at the same time was there room integrate it with Saturn (or failing that dispose with the latter completely)?
By the early 2000s, Ford of Europe was producing vehicles with outstanding driving dynamics, crisp styling and increasingly high-quality interiors, lauded by the motoring press.
The notion put forward here and attributed to GM bosses, that rebadged emerging-market ‘white goods’ vehicles would be acceptable and credible competitors, is shocking to me. I actually find it offensive in its lack of respect for a key competitor and for GM’s own customers.
Hi Kel, and welcome to Driven To Write. I cannot disagree that GM seems to have little regard, either forthe integrity of its marques or the intelligence of its customers. I’ve never owned a GM vehicle, but have driven a few as rental cars. I have zero recollection of any of them, which must say something.
Thank you Daniel. Longtime lurker and grateful reader and happy now to become a commenter too.
I do think two words which tend to sum up GM’s general approach are “that’ll do”, with some honourable exceptions of course.
Perhaps the biggest problem with Chevrolet Europe was that the cars looked too much like alternative-reality Opels for non-car people. That meant Chevrolet was as much nicking Opel sales as anyone else´s customers. It isn´t wrong to expect some Ford buyers to defect – they´d know that they get a bigger vehicle with lower quality (in some respects) for their money. It wasn´t a deception. Unlike Daniel I´ve driven a fair few Opels and the only one that stood out negatively was the Zafira 1 (due to the indicator ergonomics). Other Opels have been pleasant and often charming (the Zafira 2 and Opel Adam I really liked). The Astra estate (circa 2014) I had once was super comfortble, memorably smooth.
Coincidentally, before reading this piece, I saw a Chevrolet Aveo (I think!) today and thought about it in context to the Lincoln C concept and Golf Plus pieces published earlier. And then I thought about the Aston Martin Cygnet. Regardless of the excellence or otherwise of the actual vehicles, these were all inappropriate uses of established brand names or model names. This isn’t quite as crass as imagining that Bentley Golf clubs will get you further on the fairway, but it is odd that insiders don’t treat their own names with more care. But I can’t work out whether GM USA have so little pride in the Chevrolet badge that they’ll put it on anything, or that they view it so highly that they imagine it’s fairy dust.
And as MG and Dacia have shown, budget brands can be successful. Some people just want a little cheap runabout, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Also, I’m an idiot, I completely forgot about the Monaro. How much better would that have worked as a Chevy rather than as a Vauxhall eh?
Yeah I can see it now actually; Daewoo staying Daewoo, and Chevrolet being marketed as a niche brand in Europe, specialising in silliness. The Monaro, the corvette, a big suburban type off roader…it might have worked out actually.
That’s a good point about MG and Dacia. Lower prices, but good quality products. I’d very happily own either brand.
The Monaros bigger brother the Statesman was sold as the Chevrolet Caprice in two very distinct markets, in Saudi Arabia as a civilian car and in the US as a police car not sold to the general public.
Ingvar, there’s a very nice Statesman parked at the local shops every day. Unfortunately Imgur doesn’t like Australia, so I can’t show you. 😦
Yes, it would have made a lot of sense to keep the Chevrolet name for bigger vehicles Europeans would associate with the brand. But GM seemed to be running scared rather then thinking rationally.
A Chevrolet badged Monaro in LHD?
Done. Badging, LHD manufacture in factory.
The Chevrolet Lumina SS Coupe.
This is not the first time that something like this has happened. For me Rover was a more striking example. And the rule remains that as long as the product that you apply your badge on is well worth it, then all is well. If the product turns out to be a dissapointment, then you are only going to tarnish the badge.
From Car and Driver, January 2005
What a fascinating variety of not-quite-Chevrolets we’ve seen already. But branding the Matiz as a Chevrolet would have to take the prize for most inappropriate use of a brand name.
It’s hard to figure out what GM’s strategy was here. For a while there it looked as though Daewoo was really going places, but once GM took over it was more like they were treading water.
Laugh all you want, but let’s not forget that when Daewoos still were, here in the US GM was still pushing the J-body Cavalier/Sunfire duo in the compact class, the P-90 Malibu a size up. To argue those were superior to a current Nubira or Leganza is very much a questionable stance (that I don’t agree with). The Aveo (née Kalos for Europeans) was always a Chevrolet on this side of the pond, so it’s not that far fetched that they were in Europe, too. The opinion of what Chevrolet had on offer circa the early 2000’s is awfully generous here; there was some pretty nasty junk being foisted on consumers during this time from the Golden Bowtie…
Good morning cjiguy. You’re right, of course, about Chevrolet’s US offering being a mixed bag and including some pretty prosaic cars. That said, in Europe the marque was still better known for cars like the Corvette and Camaro so there was a significant degree of cognitive dissonance here when the bow tie appeared on former Daewoo models. As JCC said earlier, the Holden Monaro would have made a much more credible Chevrolet here.
That’s a good point cjiguy, I think the reason for the cognitive dissonance Daniel mentions (and I recognise) is probably that Deawoos were perfectly servicable but dull and cheap (in the cheerful and nasty varieties) cars where Chevy was associated with either mucle cars, “barges” from the sixties and seventies or contemporary “American crap”. Not to be jingoist, but US and European markets have been steadily diverging since the fifties and the respective perceptions of each others products have suffered accordingly.
Very generally: American cars seem to be treated as faster moving consumer goods than European ones (or in a different way, Japanese cars). Then there simply is the size difference because of respective population densities in the US and Europe. In most European contexts of owning a car, that makes an American car unsuitable: too large, too expensive to own, too indifferent an experience.
All in all, servicable, a touch bland, compact and self-effacing aren’t things a European would associate with Chevy, or with a European marque, for that matter. Opel would have worked just as badly (compare with Holden in Australia/NZ, just ask David Walker or Peter Wilding earlier in this thread).
I’ve been waiting for someone to jump to the defence of the magnificent, much maligned Corvair but am sad to see that nobody has. It’s handling was no more wayward than that of a contemporary Porsche but of course the latter was intended to be appreciated by enthusiasts who, by definition, could drive whereas the former was aimed at the masses who couldn’t and for whom cars were already ‘white goods’. It was for them that Nader launched his crusade, not for the minority such as those who follow DTW…..
Where America leads, the UK follows (I do not presume to speak for anywhere else!) and there are no longer enough enthusiasts around for us to be of any relevance to manufacturers…..
Have you ever seen the Corvair road testing film? It shows the Corvair going down a curved ramp and rolling over; the other part shows the car going around the track and it´s tail swinging out spectacularly. Is there a corresponding film for Porsche handling`?
GM throughout the past decades was a corporation of great contrasts. On the one hand, thoroughly conservative, to the point of dullness, able to produce plenty of average, good enough cars. On the other hand, every now and then GM would swagger its impressive resources and technological might to produce wonderfully left-field designs such as the 1966 Toronado, the 1970s GMC motorhome, the 1984 Pontiac Fiero, and of course, the 1959 Corvair. It’s as if they would get bored by so much rigour and discipline that they would suddenly say “Wait, why don’t we make a front-wheel drive, six-wheel, air-suspended, futuristic motorhome, just for fun!”, or in the case of the Corvair, a rear-engine, air-cooled, flat-six, independently sprung compact car to compete with the most absolutely pedestrian Ford Falcon, Plymouth Valiant, and Rambler American.
The great tragedy is that GM had the technological and engineering might to pull all of these challenges off, but would then ruin them with penny pinching and bad decisions. In some cases they would eventually get it right via improvements, only to cancel the cars just when they were finally good (like the Corvair and the Fiero).
There was a bit of Corvair discussion here…
…where I threw in my two pennies. I think it was a case of where a particular narrative turned out to be convenient for all.
But the GM that is the subject of this article is the same GM that brought Europe the Cadillac BLS.
Lutz must have known that marketing both Chevrolet and Cadillac in Europe, alongside Saab would squeeze Opel/Vauxhall from all sides into a segment so narrow it would likely evaporate. The idea that adding Chevrolet was supposed to push Rüsselsheim/Luton upmarket doesn’t exactly jive with the larger picture.
Richard H: Film? How about any with James Dean.
JTC – I share your love of the Corvair, perhaps more for its styling’s influence in Europe – from Turin, through, Neckarsulm, Coventry, and on by a few twists and turns to Zaporizhzhia – than its mechanical layout – but that’s inspiring too.
GM, more than any carmaker I can think of, has a huge bandwidth between brilliance and utter stupidity. I’m put in mind of the words of legendary GM Engineer Frank Winchell, as recalled by David E Davis:
“The GM system was so obtuse that if they’d had Stradivarius building violins, the only way they could have rewarded him for his genius would have been to make him a plant foreman.”
On the Chevrolet Vega: “That was the best bunch of guys I ever worked with,” he mused “some of the brightest people I knew, and that still turned out to be the worst car we ever built. I think about all of us in those meeting, studying the critical path analysis, reviewing the data, talking through problems with guys you really respected, not once, do I remember any one of those individuals coming into the room yelling, ‘Hey you guys! I got it! Here’s what we’re gonna do! We’re gonna build a really shitty little car!’”
As for “Where America leads, the UK follows”, we’ve yet to be won over by the cult of the full-size pick-up. I’m sorely tempted by the pick-up notion when I look on the driveways, garage courts and even footpaths of my neighbourhood, crammed with monstrous German suvs, as essential an accoutrement to modern family life for every driving-age adult as a garage full of unused bicycles and exercise equipment.
A nonchalantly-piloted F150, Silverado, or RAM (at least) 1500 would soon put them in their place.
I have a soft spot for the Corvair. It was so different. It’s a car that is much debated, but I’ve only seen it on a number of occasions.