We are six instalments into the Obscure Rebadges series and we’ve only scratched the surface of the world of rebadges. Hell, we’ve only scratched the surface of the world of General Motors rebadges. Earlier, we covered three Asian-market GM flagships: the Alpheon, Isuzu Statesman de Ville and Mazda Roadpacer. Today, let’s look at some more GM rebadges from around the world.
Yes, you’re reading that correctly: a GMC badge on a subcompact sedan. There have been car-based GMC models before, like the Sprint, Caballero, Acadia and Terrain, but I’ll bet you didn’t know there was a GMC sedan!
The 1992 GMC Chevette was exclusive to the Argentinian market and represented the final gasp of the venerable GM T-Car. And you thought the Chevrolet Chevette stuck around for too long! This GMC sedan belatedly replaced the Opel K-180, GM Argentina’s original version of the T-Car. Debuting in 1974, the K-180 was largely the same as the Opel Kadett but with an Argentinian 1.8 four-cylinder engine derived from Chevy’s inline six. It rivalled the Volkswagen/Dodge 1500.
GM’s Argentinian operations suffered heavy financial losses in the late 1970s which, along with the political situation in the country, led to GM’s withdrawal from the market. GM returned in 1985 as part of a joint venture with Sevel, importing and producing Chevrolet trucks. Then, GM entered into a joint venture with Renault-affiliated CIADEA. As part of this agreement, GM do Brasil exported the Chevette to Argentina while Renault exported its Renault Trafic van to Brazil to be sold as a Chevrolet.
Although GM’s Brazilian line-up included more modern, front-wheel-drive vehicles like the J-Car Monza, the Chevette had remained in production. Two- and four-door sedan models were offered in Argentina alongside the GMC 500, a pickup derived from the T-Car.
Engines consisted of a 1.4 overhead cam four-cylinder with 63 hp, a 1.6 four, and an optional 1.7 Isuzu diesel four. With the VW 1500 now gone, the Chevette’s rivals included the Volkswagen Gol, Renault 12 and Fiat Spazio, the latter derived from the Fiat 127.
Although the Chevette had enjoyed a long life in Brazil, its time in Argentina was short. The Chevette died after 1994 and the agreement with Renault a year later but GM carried on in Argentina, christening a new factory in 1997 where it produced the much more modern Chevrolet (née Opel) Corsa.
You may already know the Middle East was one of Holden’s many export markets for the VT-VZ and later VE generations of Commodore, one where it wore the Chevrolet Lumina nameplate after it had been extinguished in North America. This meant there were honest-to-goodness rear-wheel-drive, V8-powered Luminas and even a Lumina Coupe based on the Monaro (Pontiac GTO). What you may not know, however, is that the Lumina nameplate was used in another market after its discontinuation in North America. The Filipino Chevrolet Lumina was a bowtie-badged, Chinese-built Buick Regal.
It wasn’t the first time a Buick had worn Chevrolet badges – for example, the FWD A-Body Century was a Chevy in some South American markets. It wasn’t even the only Chinese-built Buick masquerading as a Chevy, as you’ll see later.
GM had withdrawn from the Philippines in 1985 along with Ford, finding the political and economic situation there at the time was untenable. This left just Nissan, Toyota and Mitsubishi operating in the Filipino market. In 1997, GM returned with the Opel brand, and introduced the Vectra, Omega and, shortly thereafter, the Tigra and Astra. In 2000, Chevrolet returned with the Suburban and Savana and GM dealerships were branded as GM AutoWorld. But Opel struggled in the Filipino market and by 2000 the market was still dominated by Japanese automakers who accounted for 80% of the total market (Koreans were the next biggest players with 15%). The Vectra struggled against rivals like the Nissan Cefiro (Infiniti I30/I35), Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. GM withdrew the brand in 2003, leaving the corporation without a car in the mid-size segment.
Enter the 2005 Chevrolet Lumina. Well, enter the Buick Regal with Chevy badges affixed to it, an odd decision considering GM Philippines was already offering rebadged Korean products like the Optra and therefore could have introduced the Daewoo Magnus (Chevrolet Evanda/Epica). The Lumina was quite a bit larger than the Vectra, measuring 20 inches longer and around 5 inches wider. This made it the largest car in its class.
Unfortunately, the Chinese Regal wasn’t available with the naturally-aspirated or supercharged 3.8 V6s that had been offered on the North American Regal. Instead, it used 2.5 and 3.0 V6s from the Chevy 60-degree V6 engine family plus the 2.0 Family II four. The Filipino Lumina offered just the 2.5 V6, producing 152 hp and 155 ft-lbs. It was no rocket ship, hitting 60mph in 12.8 seconds, but it was comfortable, spacious and well-equipped.
It was also short-lived. China ceased production of the Regal in 2008 and so the Chevrolet Lumina was discontinued from the Filipino market, again leaving GM without a mid-size sedan.
Something looks kind of off about this Venture, doesn’t it? That’s because the Philippine-market Venture wasn’t based on the North American Venture but, rather, the Chinese Buick GL8. Yes, this is a rebadge of a rebadge.
The Venture preceded the aforementioned Lumina by a few years, arriving in Filipino GM AutoWorld showrooms in 2001. Chinese production of the GM U-Body had commenced just two years prior and the Philippines was the first export market for the Buick GL8. It arrived to do battle with the Kia Carnival (Sedona) and the Hyundai Starex (a rebadged Mitsubishi L400/Delica). The Venture was also offered in a unique 10-seater variant, blurring the lines between minivan and minibus and having seats in a 3-4-3 configuration. Although Filipino taxation laws were favourable to 10-seaters and Filipinos tend to be slimmer than Americans and thus less squished when sitting four abreast, the 10-seater option was discontinued in 2005.
As with the Lumina, a variant of the Chevy 60-degree V6 was the only powertrain. In the Venture’s case, it was a 3.0 V6 producing 171 hp and 184 ft-lbs and hitting 60mph in 16 seconds. As with the other U-Body minivans, the Venture was spacious and drove well with a comfortable ride, smooth-shifting transmission, and relatively adroit handling for a minivan.
That was about all it had going for it. The GM U-Body wasn’t a bastion of fine workmanship when it was made in North America and its Chinese counterpart was no better (and possibly much worse). Build quality was subpar, the interior was full of cheap plastic, and the Venture creaked and groaned like a CD of haunted house sound effects. Parts availability was also a source of persistent frustration for Venture owners. By the mid-2000s, there were plenty of better-built Japanese rivals like the car-based Mitsubishi Grandis. And by 2007, GM Philippines axed the Venture. The Chinese-market GL8, however, lived on.
In the early 2000s, GM was involved with a multitude of other automakers. It had a brief partnership with Fiat that spawned shared platforms. It owned a share in Suzuki and purchased Daewoo, while also owning a share in Fuji Heavy Industries (Subaru). This led to various rebadges within the extended corporate family: Daewoos became Suzukis, Subarus became Saabs and, in the case of the Subaru Traviq, an Opel became a Subaru.
GM had started manufacturing cars in Thailand in 2000 and one of its first models was the Zafira, a handsome C-segment multi-purpose vehicle introduced by Opel to battle the Renault Scenic and which used the same platform as the Opel Astra. The Thai Zafira was exported to numerous Asian markets including the Philippines. It was also the first Thai-built car to be exported to Japan, where it was introduced in August 2001 with Subaru Traviq badges.
An importer, Yanase, had been the distributor of Opel products in Japan for decades. By 2001, the Japanese Opel range included the Zafira. Nevertheless, the Traviq reached Japanese Subaru showrooms as competition for the Zafira. It was the first car-based multi-purpose vehicle to wear the Subaru badge, boasting Opel’s Flex 7 seating system where the second and third rows could be folded flat into the floor. The Subaru badge was about all it had in common with other Subarus like the Impreza – the Traviq didn’t offer optional all-wheel-drive, nor did it have a boxer engine. Instead, 1.8 and 2.2 inline fours were offered with a standard four-speed automatic.
The Traviq undercut the almost identical Opel Zafira on price in the Japanese market thanks to the lower cost of manufacturing in Thailand. However, it wasn’t a strong seller – 12,000 annual units were projected but that ended up being the total volume over the Traviq’s admittedly short, three-year run. Its dimensions also meant it ran afoul of Japanese taxation laws. Traviq sales ended in 2004, shortly before GM sold its share in Subaru. It took another four years for Subaru to develop its own MPV, the larger Legacy-based Exiga. As for GM’s Thai operations, they found a much more successful vehicle to manufacture and export: the Chevrolet Colorado.
A lot of cars from different automakers have worn the Chevrolet bowtie at one point or another. In the Americas alone, there have been Opels, Isuzus, Suzukis, Toyotas and Holdens. In India, the bowtie badge even appeared on a Subaru, one of the fruits of a brief tie-up between GM and Subaru that also spawned the Saab 9-2X and the aforementioned Subaru Traviq.
The Forester relaunched the Chevrolet brand in India after a half-century absence from the market. Although Opel-branded products were already offered in India, Chevrolet slotted in underneath as a more mainstream brand.
GM’s presence in India has long been tumultuous. Opel had launched in 1996 with the Astra, with the Corsa and Vectra following in 2003. By 2006, Opel was out and Chevrolet was GM’s only brand in India. Although the Chevrolet-branded Forester was unique to the Indian market, the rest of their model range was similar to other markets with a fleet of mostly GM Korea products plus the rugged Tavera MPV from Indonesia. The Forester was one of just 44 different cars sold in India.
The Chevrolet Forester was offered with only one powertrain, a 2.0 flat-four with 125 hp, mated to a five-speed manual transmission. In some ways, it was well-suited for India and its rough roads: it had slightly higher ground clearance than, say, a conventional sedan, yet offered all-wheel-drive traction and greater comfort than rugged off-roaders from the likes of Mahindra. But the Forester was a petrol SUV with a relatively high price tag and so sales were slow; its station wagon looks in a market surprisingly averse to wagons might also have had an effect, as well as the unfamiliar badge. It was discontinued in 2005 with no direct replacement. The Chevrolet brand itself left the market in 2017, leaving GM with no products to sell in one of the world’s largest developing markets.
General Motors’ once huge array of brands, its lengthy history of corporate tie-ups, and its sprawling network of global operations means there’s plenty more obscure GM rebadges to share. Stay tuned for the next instalment, where we look at some more rebadges from GM and from other automakers.