Sunday, January 17, 2010

Nostalgic Subcompact: Daewoo Lanos

The first Daewoo car in the U.S. was the 1988 Pontiac LeMans, which was sold until 1993. Six years later, Daewoo decided to enter the U.S. market under its own name. There were three vehicles sold: The Nubira (sedan and wagon), the Leganza sedan, and the subcompact Lanos hatchback and sedan.

The little Lanos was powered by a 1.6-liter DOHC engine making 106 hp through either a five-speed manual or a four-speed auto. Most automotive journalists said the Lanos was slow and unrefined, and drove like a car that was already several years old. However, handling was better than average. Fuel economy was 22 city, 32 highway. Daewoos also got roadside assistance. There were a few different models throughout the years including S, SE, SX, then later, Sport trims. Options included ABS, A/C, power windows, tachometer, alloy wheels, and more. Overall, the vehicle was not well liked by the automotive press.

When gussied up with Sport trim, the Lanos didn't look too bad, in my opinion; I actually kind of liked it. You could get attractive five-spoke alloys, a sporty front end, rear spoiler, and even red leather seats and trim. Super Street magazine did a feature on a supercharged Lanos from Australia, and titled it the "Howler from Down Under." It had 17" wheels, lowering springs, and a host of other upgrades. However, the Lanos never got much of the tuner treatment in the U.S.

Compton, CA-based Daewoo Motors America initially went with a nontraditional method of roping in buyers. Instead of an extensive dealership network, the company recruited college students to promote the vehicles. However, eventually, dealerships started to pop up, and Daewoo dropped the student promoters. In 2000, Daewoo declared itself "the fastest growing car company in America," with a sales increase of 123% over 1999 sales (source). In 2001, Daewoo sold 15,619 Lanos models (source).

But even as Daewoo—the second largest Korean conglomerate behind Hyundai—entered the U.S. market, the company was in a messy financial situation, and declared bankruptcy in 2000. (Daewoo's collapse remains the largest corporate failure in Korean history.) In 2002, General Motors bought a large part of Daewoo Motors, but not Daewoo Motors America, and thus DMA declared bankruptcy. This left the dealerships in limbo, and owners wondering what will happen with parts and service.

The Lanos was essentially succeeded by the introduction of the 2003 Chevrolet Aveo, which was (and still is) built by GM Daewoo in South Korea. American Suzuki was also saddled with GM Daewoo-built vehicles (Forenza, Reno, Verona) until 2008. And although the Aveo has gotten better over time, once again, there is only one Daewoo on the U.S. market, and it is again sold under a GM brand—just like the Pontiac LeMans.

Daewoo owners can still find parts by visiting


Anonymous said...

Yeah, it wasn't a bad looking little car. I saw a Suzuki Reno the other day, lowered with nice rims, and thought it looked cool. I think Suzuki had like 125 hp or so, which is decent for their size, but they never really caught on. I have always liked the Kia Spectra hatchback too.....Spectra5 maybe? Same engine as the Elantra, but sportier looking. That has been replaced by the new, and better, Kia Forte.

Andy Lilienthal said...

I hope to get a Forte for review soon. I was never much of a Reno fan, although they don't look bad. I kind of fundamentally had something against the "Daezukis" (Suzukiwoos?), though. My friend has a Spectra5 and has had good luck with it.