Essay : Jealousy, dirty tricks? That’ll be the others

Following on from Mike Humble’s essay of Daewoo ownership in the early years, he also explains about some of the truly shocking tactics the rival brands and dealers used in an attempt to discredit the fledgling company.

The Daewoo Espero range in 1995
The Daewoo Espero range in 1995

Having first hand experience of Daewoo cars in the UK some time before most others left a bitter taste in my mouth, as I explained in my last essay about this marque. To say the cars were total garbage would be unfair, as many went on to give fairly good service – but some proved to be rather erratic.

I personally knew an owner of a small mini-cab outfit who bought two Esperos, and both proved to be a sound investment. So much so that when his own intergalactic mileage Accord give up, he purchased another. But without doubt, it was the poor level of attention to detail and hapless blundering many owners experienced via the Halfords Service Centre network, which allowed the likes of Hyundai or Kia to hoover up the disgruntled owners – and rightly so.

One thing that is fact, was that Daewoo never aspired to be a direct competitor to the likes of Ford or Vauxhall. The traditional Daewoo owner tended to be an ex Lada or Skoda owner who wished for something a little more up to date; or a family buyer on a budget who previously would have had to made do with a used Sierra or Cavalier.

On paper they promised so much, and to many owners who had no real interest in the engineering or tech spec, a car with free everything for three years seemed an ideal and logical choice – just add fuel and drive. Daewoo’s revolutionary packages certainly sent out a shockwave throughout the motor trade, and scared many manufacturers or dealer groups so much, that some rather un-sporting antics took place as part of a crude fight-back.

Personally, I think it was nothing more than sheer jealousy that spurred many a tactic, which was all designed to do nothing more than discredit and make mockery of this up and coming Korean manufacturer. I gave an example of the negative attitude given by some in the form of my ex-employer, who in effect, barred me from parking a Daewoo in the dealership staff car park.

Another example happened on a visit to the North East to see my family. While I was there, I popped in to a local Volkswagen-Audi dealer to see a salesman I had known since I was a young and avid brochure collector. He came and curiously looked at the car, before telling me to scarper before he got into trouble by his dealer principle.

In some parts of the UK, things became really messy and personal. Take, for example, this happening which took place back in the East Midlands where I lived at this time: every year, the local daily newspaper, The Northampton Chronicle & Echo, would sponsor a Motor Show event, which took place in locations such as Billing Aquadrome, Althorp House or Overstone Manor. In reality, it was nothing more than all the local dealers buying a pitch and setting up a tent with the aim of shifting some tin. Obviously, any dealer who attended this event would be blessed with considerable advertising in the local rag, and virtually all of the local dealers – big group or small family firm – went for this yearly event with gusto.

Upon hearing that Daewoo were set to attend the event in 1995, a number of dealer groups took this matter up with the paper and threatened to pull out of show in protest. And with the newspaper standing to loose a considerable sum of money, or possibly a non-event, they barred Daewoo from attending – bowing to considerable pressure from the baying dealers.

This was not unique, as other towns and cities also held similar sponsored shows, and this nasty ganging-up of nothing more than jealous petty dealers caused similar exclusions to Daewoo up and down the land. The jungle drums were certainly beating well, as all this took place back in a world before email, Facebook or Twitter, as anti-Daewoo behaviour reached an all time high by one of the UK’s biggest groups.

Daewoo Nexia
Daewoo Nexia - don't try ad trade one in at Arnold Clark.

Even though differing car makers or dealers tend to be sometimes bitter rivals, their top brass staff all wine and dine in the same lounges, play golf at the same clubs and move or shake in the same social circles. In their minds, something had to be done about Johnny foreigner, and rather than step up to the platter in terms of warranties or servicing packages by matching Daewoo, they decided that beating, rather than joining, would be a better long term strategy.

Ideas were banded about by members of dealers and manufacturers over brandy and cigars following some positive sales figures on the part of Daewoo. Local car dealers decided they would not accept any Daewoo offered in part exchange and printed this in local newspaper advertising, but it got much worse.

A certain very well known dealer chain with great prominence in Scotland, regularly advertised in various National weekend and Sunday papers. Upon hearing that dealers in the UK were bashing Daewoo in the local press, this infamous dealer group ran an advert in the National press also stating that they too, would refuse one taken in against one of their new cars giving no reason for their prejudice.

Following some legal action on the grounds of defamation of character, the dealer in question was ordered to withdraw the statement from future advertising. But no doubt its overal policy still stood. Daewoo, quite rightly, refused to adopt any tit-for-tat advertising.

On the other hand, some dealers chose to embrace the Daewoo brand. One or two specialists opened up here and there, making a decent living buying, selling or simply servicing out of warranty Daewoos. One notable example was CS & CV Robinson of Kimbolton in Cambridgeshire – once a retail Rover dealer until 1994. The owner, Charles Robinson, moved away from selling general used cars to becoming a used Daewoo specialist for a number of years.

Its excellent reputation for good honest family customer service ensured that a good number of these Korean cars would be seen driving around a quiet corner on the borders of Northamptonshire and Cambridgeshire.

Fast forward to 2011 (or what’s left of it) and we see Kia offering seven year warranties, Hyundai with five and the remainder of the other manufacturers offering a minimum of three years, with countless offers of servicing, free fuel and other incentives. Cars like the Espero, Leganza, Nexia, Nubira may hardly have set the world on fire, but they certainly made others sit up, take note and take stock.

Scaring rival makers into offering better aftersales care? – That’ll be the Daewoo!

Daewoo Espero
Daewoo Espero
Mike Humble


  1. I remember talking to a friend who worked at a large multi-franchise dealer at the time Daewoo cars were first appearing. He told me that they had been instructed to “give f*** all on trade in for Daewoos, as the big manufacturers are sore about the three year warranty”

    Dirty tricks indeed.

  2. I remember the smears. At the same time,the Swiss government would not alloy the low cost carriers to operate in their country saying it would divert traffic away from Swissair. at least they were honest. they then backed down and Swissair went bust later!

  3. I can’t comment about the smears but the cars were truly horrible to drive. We used to get them as hire cars when I worked for ICI.

    The first one I had was a 1500GLX Nexia. Rehashed Astra Mk2 but ruined by Daewoo. The Mk2 Astra I owned in the late 80s was fairly quiet, good on the motorway and had decent steering. The Nexia had a raucous & harsh engine, sloppy steering and no grip. The interior was horrible with even cheaper, more brittle plastics than Vauxhall used in the 80s and a horrific steering wheel.

    The Espero was slightly better but was two steps backwards from the Cavalier it was based on. Much the same comments applied as above except that it rode and handled slightly better although the overall quality was still horrible.

    No one I know liked the Daewoos and we were glad when Avis lost the business and we got Hertz who at least gave us a Focus or Mondeo.

    daewoo = low rent minicab or fodder for people who didn’t care about cars. That was all they were fit for. Thankfully not many have survived.

  4. Mike another brilliant read (where do you get the time? ) You mention :

    “Upon hearing that Daewoo were set to attend the event in 1995, a number of dealer groups took this matter up with the paper and threatened to pull out of show in protest.”

    I somehow recall a Major Motorshow event involving the Big Players who all stood ground over Daewoo and the Giveaway Deals, with I think Ford being more vocal than the others? Can anyone remember this? Have still probably got that copy of “Motor or was it Autocar by then?” …must dig it out one day.

    I could be completely wrong but was sure Ford and the others were more concerned with the use of “Non Commission Sales People” ? which I gather was In defence of its Dealers??

    As for Hyundai and Kia picking up the pieces, I think this has been mentioned many times before, The rate in which they are progressing within the next 10 years Manufacturers could possibly be looking up to the Koreans, maybe some Mergers of the Establishment just for sheer survival or Hyundai taking over some of the Big Players?? Stranger things have happened, Remember “Leyland ” was once the worlds 3rd Largest Vehicle producer at one time…Now if we could just sort out what the Hell went wrong ?

  5. My dad was a fleet manager for a company that didnt lease it’s 150 strong fleet, it bought them outright, so Daewoo thought they would try and make inroads but really a Nubira was never going to cut it against the then new mk4 Golf and simlarly the Leganza wouldn’t be chosen over the 1800T Passat SE’s you could chose. I have fond memories of a demo Leganza with full grey leather and quite a nice automatic transmission, though when they replaced this with the notchy manual non leathered version it didnt seem as decent. The leathered version reminded me of another lovely but largely forgotten car the Mazda Xedos 6.

  6. Don’tbuybluemotion hits the nail on the head, a lot of animosity towards Daewoo came from them not employing sales people on commision, but on a salary so there was no hard sell, they were just there to complete the order form, tick the boxes and help, something back in the day that challenged the norm of commission based sales, and the hard sell of finance, extra warranty and options to help bump up the costs and of course the profit margin.

    It was all very dirty, and I’m surprised higher powers didn’t step in to quash the problems back in the day. What the trade were effectively saying was you’ve bought one, tough you sell it we don’t want to know.

    They did prove popular to those that had been used to buying a new Lada, Skoda or indeed FSO, as they hit the market just as the Riva was being phased out, the Estelle was no more, and FSO were just about struggling along with the last Polonez/Caro models. Hyundai were beginning to move upmarket, so that just left Proton in the lower echelons of motoring nirvana to compete.

  7. One of the problems any company faces as a new entrant into a market is being squeezed by established players.
    If, like Daewoo, you choose to offer soft-selling tactics, cut out the hidden extras, provide 3-year warranties at a time when everyone else was offering 1 year then you are asking for even more trouble by challenging the way the market operates rather than just bringing in some new products. In response the lazy and jealous big dealers and vested interests closed ranks against this new entrant in an effort to not just squeeze it but publicly stamp it out.
    OK so the products weren’t great – with the possible exception of the Matiz, but despite that and the resistance of the automotive establishment they did sell in respectable numbers for a while.
    Ultimately the downfall of Daewoo cars was more to do with problems at the parent company, but as we know GM had the sense to buy them out and incorporate them as a low(er)cost range of their own.
    Daewoo used to employ a lot of designers and engineers at their technical centre in Worthing, where, I believe, the Matiz was designed. I wonder what became of that.

  8. I thought the place at Worthing was sold to TWR (Tom Walkinshaw Racing)?

    Only Daewoo I have ever been in is the Matiz, and only as a passenger, however you see them all over the place in places like Nepal, where there are thrashed senseless over appalling roads and seem to take it all in their stride.

  9. You needed a 3 year warranty on them as they were rubbish cars. They got worse as the models became more ‘modern’ rather than using cast-off GM bits. Shockingly poor quality.
    As for established dealers and manufacturers being scared by the new style of selling, they were daft. It was always going to be a dead-end after the initial novelty wore off. Besides, who’d want to take a Daewoo in part-ex? They were an unknown car manufacturer with unknown residuals and brand values. And they were crap.

  10. Sounds rather petty about dealers not wanting to take a Daewoo in part-ex, but I didn’t have the urge to buy one anyway when they arrived on the UK market! Going back to my previous comment, my brother’s Korean Chevvy Lacetti Estate has been a remarkably reliable car covering a huge mileage with hardly any trouble.

  11. no doubt about the the warranty,i worked at a dealers(own workshop-not halfords)and they bent over backwards for the customer,like for like courtesy cars etc.But the cars wre rubbish made out of rubbish,from coming off the transporter we had to weld up bulkheads on matiz,nexia and to a certain extent the espero,they were horrid cars.

  12. Daewoo’s triumph was a huge advertising budget (insert obvious MG jibe here) they were back page on motoring mags, sunday supplements, everywhere. In a moment of genius in Thurrock they stuck a dealership right next to a cinema and offered free coffee – so how many thousands of punters visited a dealer they never would have? If 5% signed Daewoo were laughing!

    I remember the “PXZ a Daewoo? – That will be the Daewoo” ad’s in the press Mike; so where did the Daewoo owners go? Yep back to Daewoo for their next purchase… another sale!

  13. I thought the Nexia was not a GM hand me down but was made at the same time as the UK Astra MK2. Daewoo used to make the Pontiac Le Mans or is Grand Prix(?) for the US market whilst Vauxhall/Opel made the same car for the European market, still hated the thing whatever it was badged.

    Question, was there a Astramax or Estate version of the Nexia?

    In the 90’s the company I worked for also owned Halfords who sold/serviced Daewoos and they were hell bent on swapping our Mondeos for Leganzas. My response was to opt out of the company car scheme at the earliest opportunity and buy my own secondhand SAAB 9000 Areo, a far more sensible choice of motoring.

  14. That would not surprise me about that Scottish dealer. To be honest, I have never come across a garage that is so full of liars, thieves and fraudsters in my life.

    Every time someone I know goes to this dealer (whether to buy a used Fiat, a brand new Fiat, service a Honda or even buy a new VW) they all get the same lies, bad service and in once case a car that was unfit for the road (not bad for a 4 year old Punto!).

    I have never owned a Daewoo but I did have the pleasure of running a Nexia 1.5 and thought it wasn’t too bad (mind you, my then chariot was a Mk2 Belmont 1.4)…

    As far as I’m aware, the Astra B was a GM Europe affair that was sold under licence in Asia by Daewoo and then Pontiac offered the Daewoos in the US as the LeMans.

  15. @ 15. I can think of one other, but legal concerns prevent me naming them. Apparently the guy who sold me the last car I bought from them was sacked due to his illegal extra-curricular activities and for pocketing cash from the dealership he worked for.

    I know someone who had asked the Scottish dealer you mention to source him a car, something fairly premium. When they contacted him to say that it had been found, and quoted him a premium price, he duly went round to see it. Couple of dents, ripped seat, practically bald tyres and a filthy roof lining all pointed to the car having been pretty much driven straight from the auctions and attemtped to being sold on for huge profit and no effort.

    I know not all dealers are the same, but in a particular area in Edinburgh the salesmen job-hop among the dealers along the same road, taking their dodgy tactics with them…

  16. We had a ’98 Leganza from ’03 to ’10 – nice looking and excellent quality. I don’t know where this idea of poor quality came from. Cheap too – bought for $NZ5000 sold for $NZ1650 even when rusted out (we lived by a beach). Repairs in that time = 2 wheel bearings, 1 cam cover seal, plus service items.

  17. I won’t mention the large Scottish chain, that is now spreading South, by name, but their customer care, sharp practices, rotten trade in deals and poor workmanship is well known. Their cars might be cheaper than a family dealer, but by the time you add in their extras and the rubbish trade in for your car, then you end up worse off.

  18. Well it is worth considering how much the UK car market has changed. The buying public has pretty much lost all fear of buying cars from exotic sounding manufacturers from the far east! There was the time that the majority of British car buyers would only touch a BL product, Vauxhall or Ford (honary British in many eyes). Even buying a French or Italian car was pretty wild for many up to the late 80s!

    I do feel the kick up the backside for a complacent UK car industry (including the dealers) was kicking off with Daewoo arriving on the market. With the increasing availabilty of cheap finance making a new car affordable for many for the first time and the bottom falling out of the used car market at the end of the 90s as a result of that it’s interesting how radical Daewoo seemed at the time.

    Consider the new Chevrolet Cruze hatchback which is built by Daewoo. It’s based on the new GM/Vauxhall Astra platform albeit £2000 cheaper, well specced and has a five year warranty! For that matter the new 2011 Kia Sportage is Autocars car of the year, looks fantastic, amazingly specced for the price, has a 7 year warranty and a UK waiting list for purchase!!! (Actually thinking of getting one myself!). Go back ten years and people would laugh at you suggesting a Kia having a UK waiting list!

    We live in changing times indeed.

  19. Is “The Scottish Dealer” similar to “The Scottish Play” in trade talk as it is bad luck to mention them by name? 😉

  20. As to the North American market, in the early 1990’s, Daewoo first made a version of a previous generation Opel Kadett/Vauxhall Astra for GM’s Pontaic division to give them a replacement for the discontinued T1000, the Pontaic version of the Chevrolet Chevette. They then tried to follow Hyundai and set up their own brand and dealership structure with a set of models to compete with them and to some extent Suzuki (along with the Suzuki made Geo/Chevrolet Metro) for the bottom end of the price market. They lasted until the parent Daewoo went bankrupt, to be largely bought out by GM and made Suzuki brand cars for the NA market.
    In the NA market, original Daweoos were not good cars, they were built cheap, many owners were cheap bastards who didn’t take care of them and drove them hard. One dealer that had them later went to and still carries Suzuki brand cars.

  21. 4 years on….

    Daewoo, under GM, badged as Chevrolet in the UK.
    The brand was marketed under the Vauxhall-Opel brands, which pulled the rug out from under them. The Cruze was similar to an Astra, but a lot cheaper, and in 4 door form – in my humble and often unpopular opinion – actually looked quite smart.

    In fact, the likes of the Trax it was simply a badge engineered Vauxhall Mokka.

    Not all vehicles were popular, the Epica was a curiously high-riding D segment saloon where non-premium D segment saloons just don’t sell, and is now only spied as a minicab where other rarities such as the Hyundai Grandeur and Stellar used to ply their trade. The Orlando was a cheap big MPV that was perhaps too big to compete with the Astra footprint of the Zafira.

    GM took the decision to withdraw Chevrolet from Europe (though still being the sponsor of a major football team), concentrating on the main Vauxhall-Opel brands. The first fruits of this being the Chevrolet Spark based Vauxhall Viva / Opel Karl. In effect, a replacement for the old Suzuki based Agila, though in practice it may tempt some out of Corsas, with Adam being pitched as a premium supermini.

    A modern successor to the original Daewoo, taking reheated previous generation models as budget offerings, may be Dacia who offer Clio and Juke based models. Like Daewoo, they promise no haggling, no nonsense cars. The main difference, especially in terms of Mike’s experience, being that they have an established international dealer network who were struggling somewhat given the fairly anonymous designs of the late 2000s decade Renault range, and the economic downturn. Much as Daewoo aimed at family cars and repmobiles – popular market segments of the early 90s, Dacia are targeting the modern market growth areas of small cars and SUVs.

    Interestingly, Renault-Nissan along with Dacia also own a majority stake in AvtoVAZ aka Lada. Nissan have brought back the Datsun brand for emerging markets, and Peugeot-Citroen sell emerging market products but have hinted that they could be sold in western Europe under Talbot brand….

    • I agree with Will, the Chevvy Cruze in saloon form was quite good looking. Near where I live, a joint Nissan Renault dealership has just changed back to Nissan only.

      I heard a rumour that the Datsun brand name was being revived but wasn’t sure if it had happened – my first brand new car was a Datsun Cherry, so have fond memories of the name.

        • Thanks Will… I didn’t know that. It was 1983 onwards that Nissan started to phase out Datsun branding in the UK.

          My Dad bought an 83 Sunny Coupe which had NISSAN on its grille with a small Datsun badge on the tailgate. Then the Stanza,Bluebird etc followed suit.

  22. The Dacia brand, I see so few of them on the road, I wonder if the established brands are suppressing Dacia in the UK. The £5995 Dacia Sandero, it is very basic inside , wind-up windows, no radio, but check the fit of the body pressings and the panel gaps of the doors etc, you may be impressed.

    • There appear to be more than 9000 Sanderos on the road in the UK, and nearly 2500 were delivered in the first 6 months of 2015 . This, I am sorry to say, is to be compared with only about 3150 MG3s, and it is not clear how many of these are customer cars rather than pre-registered . It is interesting that the cheapest Sandero is by a large margin the smallest seller ( 753 on the road ) and thus it is not just a question of price

    • I see a fair few Dacias about, though there are a couple of Renault dealers between Belfast and Crossgar. It may also reflect on the Northern Ireland economy, the region with the least disposable income laps up cheap cars (the Clio was previously a number 1 seller), while those with a bit of income in the finance sector prefer lease hired Audis.

      Another point, as hinted at by “someone who knows someone who works at the Renault dealer” (so take it with as much Sodium Chloride as appropriate) that the plan is to get the punters in to look at cheap Sanderos / Stepways / Dusters / Logan MCVs, and “upsell” to Clios / Captures / Kamjars / Meganes….

  23. There’s a fair few Daicas around where I live, but also a Renault dealership which started Dacias 2-3 years ago.

  24. Anyone remember Proton? Their Mitsubishi based cars became very popular in the nineties due to low prices, bombproof mechanicals and high equipment levels. I owned an MPi, and for all the handling was a bit wayward and the styling slightly dated, it provided me with trouble free motoring for 2 years and the Mitsubishi triple valve engine provided it with a surprising turn of speed. For years the MPi and Persona were popular as taxis and cheap family hacks, but are never seen now.

    • I remember, late 80s the original “MPi”, or Saga as it was known in Malaysia, seemed to fill the void left by Lada and “old” Skoda.

      Chef I worked with had a Wira, which was a rebadged Persona. Based on the old Lancer, for a 1.5 it had a surprising turn of speed. The GTi hatchback and the coupe got a small cult following from boy racers for their Mitsubishi origins, while the pickup got a following similar to that of the old Felicia Fun.

      They brought out the Impian which was Volvo S40/Carisma based, but didn’t seem to be as successful, nor did the Gen2 or Savvy models.

      Fun fact is that Proton once sold a Citroen AX called a Tiara.

      • I’d heard that Proton bought the AX tooling from Citroen, but they only sold the Tiara in the far east.

  25. Proton were probably a step up from an old school Skoda and Lada, as they cost a bit more, but were still way cheaper than most of their rivals and had the added advantage they used Mitsubishi technology, which made them extremely reliable and reasonably refined on the open road( something that couldn’t be said of Ladas).I think Proton probably caused Lada’s demise in the nineties as the MPi was a far more capable and pleasanter car to drive than the Samara and could comply with emissions regulations, as it used Japanese technology. Having owned a 1500 MPi GLS, it seemed to go as well as most of its rivals and was quite refined at speed and very well screwed together. Only reason I ditched it was the local dealer retired and it was a bit heavy on petrol around town.

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