Like an adopted child that has been confirmed as a member of the family, the Chevrolet Optra peels off its 3 section Daewoo grille, and adorns a new chromed Chevrolet appearance to make it part of the Chevrolet family. Chevy’s ‘bowtie’ actually looked quite natural on the original Optra courtesy of the fact that it was originally sold as a GM-Daewoo model in Korea and a few other European countries.
More importantly, as the launch model for the Chevrolet brand in Singapore two years ago, its handsome Italian models that are solidly built into quality helped ensure that the American brand gained a strong foothold in the SUV market. It is no coincidence that in every dimension, the Optra is almost identical to its Toyota Corolla Altis counterpart. Apparently, this is the only car to beat in this segment.
Well, the new grille does not only help it look more like a Chevrolet, it also cements GM’s commitment and not just to its Korean operations, but also to its Southeast Asian production plant based in Rayong, Thailand. Of the three Optra models sold here, the Station Wagon and Optra5 hatchback are built in Korea, but the sedan is made in Thailand. This explains why the Korean models received the new family grille before the sedan.
The Optra’s new front end is the most visible upgrade, but the gear ratios have been raised to make the Optra cruise quieter with better fuel efficiency. The E-TEC 1.6-litre engine remains unobtrusive, but loses out to the best Japanese engines for smoothness and refinement.
It however continues to be that well-built car, with the fit and finish showing no signs of it being of Korean/Thai origins. In fact, there is a very European feel to the Optra, from the well-weighted powered steering to the German-style quality of the dashboard grain. The zig-zag transmission gate and the blend of wood and metal surfaces are all very European.
The Optra, as well as the rest of the Aveo range, is a rare success story for General Motor. No wonder it is being used by the American giant to gain a foothold in the major Asia Pacific markets. It is sold in China as the Buick Excelle and word has it that Holden will be selling it as the Viva in Australia.
Nonetheless, General Motors has definitely gained from bailing out Daewoo from bankruptcy. This of course is a far cry from some of its less successful American ventures, such as the US$1 billion spent on the now defunct EV1 electric car program, or the setting up of the Saturn factory in Tennessee, which continues to bleed the company nearly 20 years on.
Economy in Europe still looks grim for General Motors. It therefore comes as no surprise that Optra has been given a new face, that has been warmly embraced by the entire General Motors family.
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