It is well-known that GM has always struggled somewhat when it’s come to small cars. Most of the time, this can be attributed to the actual product, with the automaker’s small car efforts usually facing criticism for lack of refinement. But what if GM were to sell a re-branded version of a segment benchmark? Would the General finally have a praiseworthy compact car in its stable?
It certainly sounded like good idea on paper when GM began selling a rebadged version of the JDM-Toyota Sprinter (a close Corolla cousin) in 1989 as the Geo Prizm. In fact, the whole newly created Geo brand was comprised of rebadged Japanese compacts. Hey, if you can’t be better than the competition, sell them as your own, right?
Things looked even more positive when the second generation Prizm arrived as a 1993 model, proudly displaying distinctive “organic” styling and offering more size, features, and power. The fact that it was based off the highly commendable E100-series Sprinter/Corolla should’ve alone been enough to sell hundreds of thousands of them. But Geo, with its mishmash of rebadged economy cars never really made a name for itself, and the whole brand folded into Chevrolet’s lineup after 1997.
Arriving in 1998, the third generation Prizm was now badged as a Chevy. Granted, the new E110-series was less exciting, and the Prizm now only differed from the North American-spec Corolla in fascias and radio. Still, Chevrolet’s brand recognition and vast dealer network surely would’ve catapulted the Prizm to a top seller and moneymaker for GM, right? Guess again.
The Chevrolet Prizm actually sold even poorer than the previous Geo-badged version. Whatever the reason, (dealers content with the less-expensive Cavalier, focus on SUVs, etc.) Chevy never really promoted the Prizm, leading to an invisible existence. So despite a strong product, this time, a lack of advertising largely prevented GM from achieving notable success in the compact segment.