GM and Asuna Passport, Complete Brand Confusion (Part Two)

We started our coverage of General Motors’ brand adventures in the ’80s and ’90s last week, with the short-lived experience that was the Passport. The dealer network was a merger of GM-owned or influenced brands from Japan, Sweden, and, in the case of the Passport Optima, South Korea. The passport ran from 1987 until 1991 before General Motors changed directions. In addition to eliminating an unsuccessful sales channel, the Geo and Saturn cars arrived during the Passport period and made things even more complicated. Let’s learn more about GM’s Canadian dealer networks.

Aside from the aforementioned Passport dealerships that became Saturn-Isuzu-Saab outlets during 1991, there were two major GM distribution networks that extended as far as the country from central Canada to elsewhere that probably included Regina and Vancouver. It was grouped together from Chevrolet, Oldsmobile and Cadillac as one distribution, and Pontiac, Buick and GMC as the other. These two major networks were bolstered by a new Saturn-Isuzu-Saab setup that sought to attract more “import” buyer business (a concept GM was obsessed with from 1984 until roughly 2003).

While the orphan Pontiac was awarded the former Passport LeMans in 1992, Chevrolet dealers sold various Suzuki (such as the Spectrum) GM bowtie badges in the mid-1980s. This trend continued in 1989 when cars sold as Geos in the United States were virtually marketed as Chevrolet in Canada.

Geo wasn’t introduced to Canada until 1992, but Geo-cum-Chevrolets were very popular when they arrived at the end of the decade. That didn’t make the folks at Pontiac-Buick-GMC dealerships very happy because the only Geo available to them was the Tracker, which has a GMC badge. Dealers petitioned General Motors to cease their business, and this led to the creation of a new brand: Asuna.

GM made a declaration of use in Canada on May 20, 1990, even before the official termination of its passport. The brand itself was officially established on April 12, 1992. Asüna made a lot of promises to the sales staff at Pontiac-Buick-GMC dealerships, who desperately wanted some of the smaller products Geo had.

Let’s remind ourselves that GM’s lineup consisted of four vehicles in 1993: Metro, Prism (2nd generation), Storm, and Track. The Prizm was the only car in second-generation form, as the others were still in the original 80s form. On this basis, Asuna created its small lineup.

The most promising offering in the brand’s new lineup was the Asüna version of the Tracker, the Sunrunner. The Tracker was available at Chevrolet dealers across Canada in 1989 in its standard forms (hardtop, convertible, and five-door). The Tracker remained under the Chevrolet logo until 1992 when it was renamed Geo Tracker, but intriguingly retained its gold emblems. In fact, Canada’s Geo Tracker always wore a Chevrolet badge, until the end of its first generation production in 1998.

GMC owned its own version of the Tracker, bearing a badge from 1989. There were limited differences other than the badges, but the CL in Chevrolet’s Speech became SLE trim at GMC dealers. 1991 was the last year for the GMC Tracker, and unlike the renamed Geo version of the Chevrolet, its transition to the Asüna Sunrunner included new badges.

The Sunrunner was the first available Asuna when it arrived in 1992. Underneath it was the Suzuki Vitara, which is often called the Escudo in other markets. Geo’s most distinctive model, the first generation Tracker that ran from 1989 to 1998, at which time it switched to the second generation that was sold from 1999 to 2004. The Tracker bypassed General Motors’ interest in the Geo own brand and remained in the second half of its life as a Chevrolet.

As the only car that Asuna Nobody Already wanted was GM Canada’s favorite orphan, LeMans. After one year as a Pontiac in 1992, 1993 saw the LeMans look refined and converted to the Asüna SE and GT. The only difference in the new version was a new front section and slightly revised taillights. It arrived a year after Sunrunner was at a lot of dealers. The improved LeMans were sold in the US for one model year, and their Asüna tenure proved very short, too: 1993 was their only year. We discussed the history of a lot of LeMans in our last post.

The third and final Asuna was the sportiest of the group, Sunfire. Today the name Sunfire is usually associated with Pontiac, and the name Sunfire was first applied to Geo Storm to make it Asüna. The Storm was restricted from Canada, as the second-generation model was not imported as an Isuzu or Geo in 1992. Asüna customers received the Sunfire only as a hatchback—and the wagon version of choice was rarely banned.

Sunfire and Storm rebadges were on the second generation Isuzu Impulse, or Piazza if you prefer. Although it was more modern than its predecessor, the second generation lost a lot of their heart and soul. It was not designed by Giugiaro, it was not rear-wheel drive, and it was short-lived. Due to slow sales globally, Isuzu canceled the Impulse after just four model years. Storm hasn’t been replaced in the Geo lineup, and this was the only time the brand featured a sporty convention on display.

Although Geo sales continued in the US and Canada, Asuna wasn’t so lucky. The Canadian consumer’s familiarity with imported cars at Chevrolet dealerships was too impressive for the kind folks at the Pontiac dealer across the street. It didn’t help that the reasonably priced, higher-volume Metro and Prizm wasn’t allowed to copy to Asüna.

The only car that made it out of Asuna alive was the Sunrunner, which drove to Pontiac showrooms in 1994. That year, General Motors allowed Pontiac dealers access to another Geo, the Metro. For Pontiac’s use, the Metro was renamed and sold as Cheesy Firefly. The Pontiac Sunfire returned in 1995 as a redesigned J chassis.

Unlike the Passport brand that GM has kept and renewed for some time, the Asüna has received much less attention. After it was registered, it was never renewed. The Canadian government informed General Motors in February 2008 that the brand was about to expire, but the general did not respond. Asüna was written off from active status on September 18, 2008. Thus concludes the tale of Passport and Asüna. A total of seven years of brand experiences that almost no one remembers make perfect for a deserted date.

[Images: GM]

Be up to date with TTAC. Get the latest news, features, what TTAC takes and everything else to get to the truth about cars first by subscribing to our site the news.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: