While here at CEAutoClassic we usually wrote about classic cars, but we take an exception here.
Daewoo Lanos, FSO Lanos, ZAZ Lanos, ZAZ Chance, ZAZ Sens – the Lanos was offered in various guises in the early 2000s. Its story illustrates the hardships ex-COMECON automakers faced after the Iron Curtain fell.
In the early 1990s when the Soviet Union collapsed, the transition to a market economy put a strain on many Central and East European countries. The automotive industry was no exception. While Škoda was saved by Volkswagen, and the newly re-united Germany scooped up the former Wartburg and Trabant plants, other companies struggled. Oltcit in Romania, FSO in Poland and ZAZ in Ukraine all had the same problem: outdated models and the sudden dissappearance of customers.
Daewoo was founded in 1967 a clothing and textile manufacturer by Woo-Chong. The company later moved into shipbuilding and then diversified into electronic components and later consumer electronics, aeronautics, weapons, heavy duty industrial machinery, hotels, building construction, financial services, and telecommunications. At its height it was the second largest chaebol (conglomerate) in South Korea.
Daewoo took over control of Sahen Motor, a former partner of General Motors in 1982. Early Daewoo models were badge-engineered Opel models, with slight tweaks.
In 1986 Daewoo signed a joint venture agreement with General Motors. The result was the Pontiac LeMans, a slightly altered Opel Kadett which was sold in North America. The partnership was dissolved in 1992 and Daewoo decided to go its own way.
In 1993 the company hired Dr Ulrich Bez of BMW and Porsche fame to lead its engineering team. He oversaw the launch of such models as the Matiz, Lanos, Nubira and Leganza. In 1998, Daewoo operated 41 domestic affiliates and 396 overseas branches and had a staff of 300,000 employees globally. However the 1997 Asian financial crisis ravaged the company, which was declared bankrupt two-years later. By that time Bez left the company. Daewoo Motor was sold to General Motors in 2002. Kim Woo-Chung fled the country and returned in 2005. He died in December, 2019.
In the early 1990s Kim Woo-Chong set his sights on the lucrative Central and East European markets. He was greeted as a knight in shining armour when he bought Oltcit in 1994 and FSO in 1995. He also set up a greenfield plant in Uzbekistan to conquer the Central Asian markets and Russia. In 1998 Daewoo set up a joint venture with AvtoZAZ, manufacturer of the Tavria.
One of the key models of these factories was the Lanos, a mid-sized sedan designed by Giorgio Giugiaro of ItalDesign fame. It was launched in 1997 and was promptly put into production at both FSO and ZAZ.
It was ZAZ which really did the most with the model. In addition to the basic model (T100), it developed a facelifted version (T150) which was then offered with a Daewoo engine and a locally-sourced engine. The latter model was called the Chance, later the Sens.
Though Daewoo collapsed, ZAZ survived. For a short time it has bought FSO in Poland. Lyle Frink, the Central European correspondent of Automotive News warned the world in 2005 of a new, forthcoming automotive giant:
“Ukrainian automaker ZAZ is on the brink of forming an eastern European auto manufacturing power. Combined, ZAZ and FSO have the capacity to manufacture 400,000 vehicles annually. As a single entity, ZAZ/FSO also would have several intriguing attributes:
- Home markets with a population of 102 million
- National automaker status in two markets — one already in the European Union, the other with duty-free access to Russia
- Low-wage work forces”
The 2008 crisis put an end to the global ambitions of ZAZ. But the Lanos soldiered on. Ukrainian kits were sent to Egypt, where the last Lanos was assembled in 2019.