Descending from Korea's first automobile company National Motor, South Korea's Daewoo Motors began producing cars in 1978 as part of the Daewoo Group of companies. Tough financial times forced the Daewoo Group to sell its consumer automotive arm to General Motors in 2001. Daewoo's commercial division was purchased by Tata Motors in 2004.
Business before the Korean War
First established as National Motor in 1937, the automaker that would become Daewoo held the distinction of being Korea's first domestic automotive company. By 1962, National Motor became Saenara Motor, the company that assembled and sold the Datsun Bluebird P310. Thanks to ultra-modern assembly facilities, Saenara was more than able to meet the requirements of South Korea's Automobile Industry Promotion Policy. Yet Saenara still sold out to Shinjin Industrial in 1965. Saenara Motor became Shinjin Motors, an automaker that regularly collaborated with Toyota until 1972.
Shinjin entered into a joint venture with General Motors in 1972, after Toyota backed out. The new partnership became General Motors Korea (GMK), then Saehan Motor in 1976.
First international success
The Daewoo Group took over Saehan in 1982, and until 1996, all models produced were Daewoo in name, but based upon GM designs. Such models as the Maepsy-Na, Royale Series and the Daewoo Imperial bore resemblance to various Chrysler models, and in the case of the Imperial, Japanese luxury sedans.
Daewoo's first international success was the 1986 LeMans, which was based on the Opel Kadett 3. Made in partnership with Pontiac, the LeMans came in 3- and 5-door models, and the latter was called the Penta-5. Produced until 1997, the LeMans was one of Daewoo's most popular cars.
Temporary split from GM
In 1992, Daewoo Motors briefly split with GM to pursue business as an independent automaker. One of the company's first moves at the time was to import second generation Honda Legend cars to replace their discontinued flagship car the Imperial. Daewoo's take on the Legend was called the Arcadia. The popular LeMans received a remodel in 1994, with the new variants sold under the Cielo title.
The first 'real' Daewoo
Late 1996 saw the introduction of the Daewoo Lanos, the first completely independent Daewoo model. The three-door Romeo and five-door Juliet kicked off Daewoo's line of affordable family cars. The following year saw the birth of the Daewoo Nubira and mid-sized Leganza, both of which sported Italian styling.
Perhaps the most well-known Daewoo model was produced in 1998, the Matiz. The city car proved to be the automaker's top seller for four years. Some controversy erupted, as Chinese automaker Chery Automotive accused Daewoo of copying its Chery QQ.
For a change, Daewoo became a buyer in 1998, when the company took over operations of 4WD specialist company SsangYoung Motor. One of the more notable vehicles produced under the partnership was a SsangYong limousine. Daewoo eventually sold SsangYong in 2000, as deeper financial troubles began to surface.