In the 1980s and 1990s, General Motors Canada decided to try a new distribution strategy for its imported cars. Like the recent Dodge Colt lineup, GM has its own exclusive collection of imported cars and trucks built by other brands. But thanks to a Canadian dealer agreement, GM went further than Chrysler, establishing a separate distribution network for its imports. These efforts have brought exciting Passport and Asüna brands to the Canadian market. First, the passport.
General Motors Canada Ltd. filed a trademark application for the Passport name on June 2, 1987. The company’s full name was Passport International Automobiles, and it was introduced to an enthusiastic Canadian public that summer of 1988. Passport is a bit of a precursor to Geo, a new brand that arrived south of the border in 1989. Originally, the Geo wasn’t sold in Canada, but we’ll get to that later.
However, the Passport line went further than some exclusive imports, and even exceeded Geo’s goals: it sold a combination of cars from GM’s portfolio. This passport is an exit for anything that doesn’t fit on the land of Canada’s major GM dealership. Only one car gets the Passport branding, which is awesome. Say hello to Optima.
You’ll call it Pontiac LeMans south of the border, and the rest of the world will call it various names: 1.5i, Pointer, Runner, Racer, and later Cielo. LeMans is on GM’s front-wheel-drive T-body, typically used on European products like the Opel Kadett and Vauxhall Astra. Kadett E is the basis for LeMans. Longevity, the T remained in service until 2016 under GM’s many affordable vehicles. That year was the final year of Le Mans, as it finally ceased licensed production in China.
Although designed by General Motors’ Opel division, the LeMans and Optima for North American consumption are built in Incheon, South Korea.Unlike the lesser-known Optima, Pontiac’s LeMans has a long history, and the Korean sedan is definitely offend in the badge. GM repeated the madness with the Corolla Nova. The new Optima is available in a three-door hatchback, four-door sedan and five-door hatchback.
As a result, the Optima became the only Passport vehicle available in the “Cross-Canada Passport Network” established by General Motors, with dealerships all over the country (albeit concentrated in downtown Canada). It changed from Daewoo to Passport with a small Passport badge up front and a grille and a couple of Optima badges in the back. Of course, Optima alone won’t be enough to fill dealerships, so GM is a little crazy about vehicles parked in Passport parking lots. The main goal (since there is no Geo yet) is actually the distribution of Isuzu passenger cars.
Aside from trucks, there is no Isuzu dealer network in Canada, so the full Isuzu range appears on the Passport. The lineup includes sporty i-Mark and Impulse models, as well as Stylus sedans and SUVs in Rodeo and Trooper/II forms. The van is also there. Retailing as an Isuzu through your Passport dealer, none of the Isuzus have an external Passport badge.
So where is the full range of Korean cars and a few Japanese cars available at your local Passport dealer? No, not exactly. Passport also distributed Saab models, since Saab only had 900 and 9000 at the time. It’s almost hard to imagine walking into a dealership and seeing an Isuzu pickup next to a Saab 9000. But it does. The ad appears to be focused on Optima and Isuzu models, your author could not find any models showing Saabs.
In any case, the dealer chain is slow to sell. Little interest in Optima. Unfortunately, not much data is available, but it is suggested that in 1988 just over 2,000 Optimas and i-Marks were sold, along with 2,150 trucks and SUVs. 1989 was slightly better, with a total of 5,087 cars and 4,204 trucks.
With Saturn coming online, there are more promising products to come. The Saturn was supposed to arrive at Passport dealers in mid-1992 (Saturn’s Canadian debut), but they didn’t. In 1991, GM tore down the hammer, killing the Passport name. Instead of closing, the passport dealership changed its name to simply the Saturn-Saab-Isuzu outlet. Maybe GM thought that if the name appeared more directly on the box, customers would visit more often.
This change makes the Optima the only true Passport vehicle. As a result, it was discontinued after 1991, and LeMans appeared at Pontiac dealers in 1992. South of the border, the unpopular Pontiac LeMans continued to be sold until 1993. The LeMans will finally be available in Canada for a year, as the small sedan continues its sales identity crisis: The following year, it’s sold under Asüna, another all-new, Canada-only GM brand.
because interesting As GM Canada arranged, Asüna picked up Isuzu parts and shaved off some Geos to supply the dealer line. That’s where we will go next time.
An interesting side note: While GM has definitely done the Passport trademark In 1991, the trademark was renewed from August 2005 to August 2020. GM Canada held the trademark until October 2014 and was discontinued for non-use.
Become a TTAC insider.Be the first to get the latest TTAC news, features, shots and all the truth about cars Subscribe to our communication.