This homely red sedan, once a familiar sight in the USA, is a rare remnant from one of GM’s more bizarre marketing adventures in the Great White North. Looking quite reasonable for a twenty-one year old Ontario car, not even the most charitable observer could have expected it to last this long when new.
As Dave Saunders pointed out in his excellent article, Asüna was part of the General’s constantly changing plans to woo the folks driving Hondas and Toyotas into their showrooms. The outlay for this ultimately short-lived adventure was minor since the perpetually-recycled 1987 Daewoo/Pontiac LeMans was already being marketed in Canada along with a twin named the Passport Optima, which was sold at its own dedicated dealerships alongside Isuzus and Saabs. While Geo and Saturn replaced that import-themed sales channel in 1992, the poor LeMans clone still hung around, since Buick/Pontiac/GMC dealers wanted a rival to Chevrolet’s Geo lineup. Corporate HQ found it easier to oblige them and with a simple swapping of decals, the Asüna lineup was born. As Pontiac already sold a version of the Geo Metro as the Firefly, the former Optima served as the entry level placeholder and went without a model name, selling as the Asüna SE and GT.
I can just imagine the poor salesman trying to pass one off on a customer: “Hey, buddy, You didn’t like that Passport Optima? Well, take a seat in this Asüna. It’s basically an Opel, so it has fine German engineering. Just look at the funny dots over the ‘U.’ Would some Hyundai have those? There’s even two different models to choose from: SE and GT. Give me your keys and we’ll get your trade assessed while we take this Asüna out for a test drive.” The whole exercise gave “generic” a whole new name and as much as we like to highlight the damage it did to GM’s reputation, I’d wager it was even more destructive for the likes of Isuzu and Suzuki, whose cars were forever associated with the bottom-rung image of these cheapest of captive imports.
The experiment was a blissfully short one, with the Asüna SE/GT leaving North America after 1993, along with the Pontiac LeMans. Lest one think the 1992 facelift which coincided with the introduction of the Asüna model line was a failed enterprise, it firmly established the former Opel Kadett E as a Daewoo staple, with enough markets to pay off the investment made for the new tooling. Another facelift followed in 1994 and the car enjoyed success under such names as Daewoo Fantasy and Daewoo Heaven until being slowly phased out over the previous decade, except in Uzbekistan, where it is still produced and sold as under the appropriately nondescript Nexia moniker.