The cars we loved.
In much of the world the Daewoo name is heavily associated with tractors, construction, shipbuilding, telecom or even consumer electronics. So when the company decided that it would follow Hyundai into the American automotive market, it tried to avoid the mistakes made by its larger national rival. Daewoo was in dire straits by the mid 90’s, so much so that it was bought by GM of all companies in 2001. GM used Daewoo platforms for many of its smallest cars. Some of those cars like the Aveo were sold in America while most of them were sold in Europe, South America and parts of Asia (Chevrolet Lacitte for instance). Daewoo also had partnerships with Volkswagen, Audi and Chrysler in various parts of the world.
For its foray into America, Daewoo tried to establish an image of quality. What better way to do that than to hire Italians to design your flagship sedan. The Leganza, a hybrid of the Italian words for elegance and power was designed by Italdesign . Thought to be influenced by Giorgetto Giugiaro’s design for the Jaguar Kensington concept car of 1990, the Leganza had similar, but stubbier lines, mostly because the Kensington was a larger rear wheel drive vehicle and the Leganza was front and intended to be thousands of dollars cheaper on a smaller chassis. The Leganza’s troubles were more related to the misfortunes of the Daewoo Automotive Company, than the car itself.
The brand never really took off. At first Daewoo’s were sold in mostly in the West and Southern states, with dealers concentrated in urban areas where there were plenty of college students. The strategy worked for the smaller entry level Laneos, but the more upscale Leganza was ignored by buyers looking for and expecting a cheap Korean made basic mode of transportation. The Leganza looked somewhat upscale, if not distinctive, but its 2.0 and later 2.2 litre 4 cylinder engine only made 134 hp, hardly the power output of a luxury car. Inside, leather seats and a well thought out (if not somewhat odd looking)control layout gave the impression of true luxury.
Good road manners came courtesy of a fully independent suspension, tuned for ride comfort. Some quality issues haunted the car for most of its short life. News of bankruptcy short circuited any sales momentum the Laganza was establishing. A moment of uncertainty and confusion insued, causing many buyers to protest once the future of Daewoo was publicly in doubt. Still, it compared well against other Korean and some domestic entry level mainstays. The Leganza got mixed reviews, but generally the press became more favorable as improvements were made, going so far as to cautiously recommend it.
The Leganza filled a small niche in Europe and Asia where it was longer than most compact sedans, but smaller than the typical mid-sized car. The big car feeling in a small package was similar to that of Kia’s Amanti, giving luxury car buyers on a budget a feeling of value. Gradual improvements including the larger engine addressed some concerns, but wide acceptance would be illusive for the fledging Leganza and the Daewoo brand in general.
Other Korean makes like Hyundai was trying to repair it’s reputation damaged by the Excel . Kia was scrapping for crumbs at the low end of the market to make a name for itself while Daewoo just floundered. Most people in the US had never even seen a Daewoo, especially in the Midwestern states. Fortunately (or unfortunately) for Daewoo, after its bankruptcy and subsequent rescue by GM, its dealer network got propped up, bolstering Leganza sales somewhat by virtue of greater exposure. Still, it was not enough, as sales were significantly less than Hyunda’s Elantra or GM’s aging J cars (Cavalier/Sunfire).
When the time came to retire the Leganza in 2002, GM decided to ditch using the Daewoo brand altogether but kept its manufacturing facilities to build Daewoo designs under it’s Chevy brand as well as joint ventures with other car companies. The Suzuki Verona became the direct replacement for the Leganza and was sold under other names depending on what continent you were on. To this day GM honors warranties and all automotive service on Daewoo cars. Service and maintaince can be completed at GM dealerships.