Passport of General Motors and Asüna, total brand confusion (part II)

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We began our coverage of GM’s 80s and 90s brand adventures last week, with the short-lived experience that was Passport. The dealer network was an amalgamation of GM owned or influenced brands from Japan, Sweden and, in the case of the Passport Optima, South Korea. Passport lasted from 1987 to 1991 before GM changed management. In addition to cutting out an unsuccessful sales channel, the Geo and Saturn cars had arrived during Passport’s tenure and complicated matters. Let’s learn a little more about GM’s Canadian dealer networks.

Besides the aforementioned Passport dealerships that became Saturn-Isuzu-Saab outlets in 1991, there were two major GM distribution networks that stretched to the far reaches of the country, from downtown Canada to other locations that probably included Regina and Vancouver. Grouped together were Chevrolet, Oldsmobile and Cadillac as one distribution, and Pontiac, Buick and GMC as the other. These two main networks were supported by the new Saturn-Isuzu-Saab configuration which sought to capture more “import” buyer activity (a concept GM was obsessed with from 1984 until about 2003).

While Pontiac dealerships received the orphan formerly known as the Passport LeMans in 1992, Chevrolet dealerships sold the various bowtie-badged Suzuki (like the Spectrum) GM products in the mid-1980s. continued in 1989 when, by default, cars sold as Geos in the United States were marketed as Chevrolet in Canada.

Geo wasn’t introduced in Canada until 1992, but Geo-cum-Chevrolets were quite popular when they arrived at the end of the decade. This didn’t make the people at the Pontiac-Buick-GMC dealerships too happy since the only Geo available to them was the Tracker, badged as GMC. Dealers asked GM to get them in on the action, which led to the creation of a new brand: Asüna.

GM filed its declaration of use in Canada on May 20, 1990, even before the official termination of its Passport. The brand itself was officially founded on April 12, 1992. Asüna held great promise for the Pontiac-Buick-GMC dealership sales staff, who desperately wanted some of the smaller products offered by Geo.

Recall that the GM lineup consisted of four vehicles in total in 1993: Metro, Prizm (second generation), Storm and Tracker. The Prizm was the only vehicle in its second generation form, the others still being in the original format of the 80s. It was on this basis that Asüna built her small formation.

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

GMC had its own version of the Tracker, badged as such from 1989. There were limited differences other than badging, but CL in Chevrolet parlance became the SLE version at GMC dealerships. 1991 was the last year for the GMC Tracker, as unlike the Chevrolet version which was renamed Geo, its Asüna Sunrunner transformation included new badging.

The Sunrunner was the first Asüna available when it arrived in 1992. Beneath it was the Suzuki Vitara, often called the Escudo in other markets. Geo’s most recognizable model, the first generation of the Tracker ran from 1989 to 1998, when it transitioned to the second generation which was sold from 1999 to 2004. The Tracker survived GM’s interest in the special Geo brand and existed for the second half of its life as a Chevrolet.

Serve as the only Asüna vehicle that nobody Wanted was GM Canada’s favorite orphan, the LeMans. After just one year as a Pontiac in 1992, 1993 saw the LeMans facelifted and transformed into the Asüna SE and GT. The only difference in the new version was a new front clip and very slightly revised rear lights. It arrived a year after the Sunrunner was on dealer lots. The facelifted LeMans was never sold in the United States, and his tenure at Asüna proved to be very short: 1993 was his only year. We discussed LeMans history a lot in our last entry.

The third and final Asüna was the sportiest of the bunch, the Sunfire. Commonly associated with Pontiac today, the Sunfire name was first applied to the Geo Storm to make it an Asüna. The Storm had been restricted from Canada, as the second generation model was not imported as Isuzu or Geo in 1992. Asüna customers only received the Sunfire as a hatchback – the version rarely selected family was prohibited.

The Sunfire and Storm have been rebadged on the second generation of the Isuzu Impulse, or Piazza if you prefer. Although much more modern than its predecessor, the second generation has lost much of its heart and soul. It wasn’t designed by Giugiaro, it wasn’t powered, and it didn’t last very long. Due to slow sales globally, Isuzu canceled the Impulse after only four model years. The Storm was not replaced in the Geo range, and it was the one and only time the brand offered a sporty compact.

Although Geo sales continued in the United States and Canada, Asüna was not so lucky. The Canadian consumer’s familiarity with imported cars at Chevrolet dealerships was too great for the good folks at the Pontiac dealership across the street to overcome. It didn’t help that the affordable, higher-volume Metro and Prizm weren’t allowed to be copied on Asüna.

The only car to come out alive from Asüna was the Sunrunner, which made it to Pontiac showrooms in 1994. That year, GM gave Pontiac dealerships access to another Geo, the Metro. For Pontiac use, Metro was rebranded and sold as the nerdy Firefly. The Pontiac Sunfire returned in 1995 in redesigned J-body form.

Unlike the Passport brand that GM retained and renewed for some time, Asüna received far less attention. After its registration, it was never renewed. The Canadian government informed GM in February 2008 that the brand was about to expire, but the general did not respond. Asüna was deregistered from active status on September 18, 2008. Thus ends the Passport and Asüna story. A total of seven years of brand experimentation that hardly anyone remembers makes for a perfect abandoned story.

[Images: GM]

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