The story of Daewoo in North America took some interesting plot turns over the decades. First we had the 1988-1993 Pontiac LeMans, a rebadged Daewoo LeMans. A bit later, Daewoo began selling cars under its own nameplate here, with the Lanos, Nubira, and Leganza available for the 1999-2002 model years. Then Daewoo fled the continent and left warranty service of those cars in the hands of Manny, Moe, and Jack. With GM taking over Daewoo Motors after Daewoo’s bankruptcy, we got some Daewoos with Suzuki badges here— the Verona and the Reno— while Chevrolet began selling the South Korean-built Daewoo Kalos as the Aveo for the 2004 model year. This car may not be a gem in the sense that you would want to own one, but it’s a gem of automotive history and thus deserves its place in this series (especially because it’s one of the rare 5-speed cars sold here).
Many (maybe even most) of these cars ended up in the hands of rental-car companies and other fleet users, but we can tell from the three-pedal setup that this car went to a non-fleet buyer. We’ve had a couple of these cars compete in the 24 Hours of Lemons, where I work as a dignified and respected race official, and they’ve been amazingly quick on a road course in the hands of good drivers.
Power came from this 103-horsepower Opel-designed four displacing 1.6 liters. The Nubira and Lanos got versions of this engine on these shores, too.
The LS was the top trim level for the Aveo in 2004, so this car got air conditioning and a halfway decent audio system (by 2004 standards).
The seat fabric is industrial-grade stuff, which would have held up well under the steady drip and/or torrents of bodily fluids coating the interiors of rental cars.
The 2004 Aveo LS started at $12,045, which comes to about $16,675 in 2020 dollars, so it was a lot of commuter-appliance for the price.
The following generation of this car became the Chevrolet Sonic, beginning with the 2012 model year. You can still buy a new Sonic, and the inflation-adjusted price is nearly identical to that of the original Aveo… though you might want to move fast if you really want one, because Daewoo stopped selling the Kalos in South Korea not long ago. If you want the rarest member of the Aveo family available in North America, find yourself a hen’s-teeth Pontiac G3, the short-lived Pontiac-badged version.
Speaking of the G3, here’s the way it broke the hearts of gas pumps around the world. Sad Gas Pump went into a downward spiral of inhalant abuse after its rejection by the oblivious G3 drivers, ending its career in a tumble-down marina in Panama.
In the Aveo’s homeland, the incredible performance of the Kalos enabled its occupants to escape rapacious Seoul paparazzi by leaping a drawbridge.
In Australia, this car got Holden Barina badging and fought bulls.
At this point, you’re probably asking yourself if there was a Russian-market version. Of course there was, and it was known as the Ravon Nexia R3.
How about Ukraine? Yes, ZAZ builds a version known as the Vida to this very day.
Versions of the Kalos were (and are) manufactured all around the world, but we’ll end the tour of TV commercials with this one of the American-market ’04 Aveo. Fits four basketball players in alleged comfort! I think Honda did a better job of the big-guys-in-tiny-car with their disturbingly 1980s German-market commercial for the Jazz, to be honest.