CC Capsule: 1998-2002 Daewoo Lanos – Humble Remnant Of Lofty Ambitions

With big dreams come big falls. And while this car is a rather humble-looking one, those who lived through its launch know there’s more to it than meets the eye. The event was certainly a brief hiccup in automotive history, a short timeframe when upcoming Korean automaker Daewoo attempted to take over the world. A rather misguided and rushed affair that’s been already covered at CC in detail.

And yes, this humble Lanos compact was part of that herculean effort.

As mentioned, the episode was a rather brief affair, the likes of which I hadn’t seen in a while. I more or less remember the whole matter this way; one day, in the late ’90s, news came of this large Korean conglomerate ready to arrive on US soil, with hopes of creating a big splash in the economy class. And then, in about what seemed like an eyeblink, the outfit folding; absorbed by GM in the early aughts. A result of financial shenanigans, underperforming sales, overreaching plans, and massive debts.

“The Largest Car Company You Never Heard Of” is how some referred to Daewoo in those heady late ’90s days. Like Hyundai and Kia, the company was a huge conglomerate in its native Korea and had a significant presence across the globe. Some of its cars, like the Racer (above), had surreptitiously appeared in markets such as the US. As is known, it had arrived stateside under the Pontiac banner as a LeMans. A rather odd decision, but let’s not blame Daewoo for that since GM owned that badge.

Still, the ’88-’93 LeMans episode had been a tryout of sorts. Going solo in the US was the company’s ultimate goal, even if it had to wait while some GM-related contract matters cleared.

By ’98, Daewoo was dreaming of turning into the new American darling, following in the steps of Hyundai and Kia. Not that Hyundai and Kia were doing that well stateside, but hope springs eternal, right?

So, the plan was to outdo their Korean competitors and outsell both in the US. A good deal of the idea riding on a curious scheme of pushing Daewoo products around College Campuses. A market that back then was already well served by used Corollas, Tempos and Sentras from the 1980s.

But that aside, to fulfill the company’s lofty goals a new lineup was conceived. A trio of offerings appeared; the subcompact Lanos, the compact Nubira and the family-size Leganza. On the engineering side, the cars were the result of Daewoo’s accumulated experience, aided by independent contractors in specialized areas. Meanwhile, Europeans were behind their styling. Italdesign is credited with penning the Lanos and Leganza, while the IDEA Institute takes credit for the Nubira.

Daewoo’s 1997-2002 period was certainly a bumpy one, and thus, not many of their cars from this period are found anymore. Checking online and at the Cohort, a Daewoo from this interval is a somewhat rare sight. The one reason that moved me to capture this Lanos, a car I had seen for ages around my neighborhood in San Salvador, and that I hesitantly shot. And good thing I did, for it finally disappeared a few weeks ago.

Did it go to a new buyer? Or is it another Daewoo-Dream-Big remnant that’s gone for good?

Now, let’s not be too hard on Daewoo and its US ambitions. The US is, after all, the largest market in the world. Naturally, everyone wants a slice of that big pie. Trouble is, everyone reaches the same conclusion. Competition is fierce, and standing out, an uphill battle. The whole ordeal certainly took Daewoo down, but heck, older and more established players failed stateside as well. It’s the nature of that competitive market.

And to be fair, these Daewoos were not necessarily rotten. Then again, they didn’t make that great a case for themselves in the crowded US market.

Not that any of these thoughts will serve as consolation to what’s left of Daewoo, now serving GM with mundane transport to badge-engineer as Chevrolets around the globe. But well, that’s a story for another day.

In the meantime, let’s enjoy one last shot of this US-sourced Lanos, now gone to an unknown fate. A reminder that big dreams are good and deserve to be pursued. But one must not underestimate the perils of such quests, for they can cost dearly. Heck, sometimes those falls are so hard, that you are no longer yourself at the end. And Daewoo certainly knows that quite well.


Related CC reading:

Automotive History: The Tangled Story Of Daewoo In The United States

Curbside Recycling: 2000 Daewoo Lanos SX Sedan – Cheap SX Doesn’t Have To Be Bad

Classic CARmentary: 1998 Daewoo Lanos SX Sedan