No customers? No problem - wind them in with long, smart ad campaigns featuring free this, free that and a new car after a year for the first 1,000 buyers. It's also getting its act together quite nicely in fleet terms, chipping away at the public sector and hammering home the value for money, no-nonsense message with user-choosers. Still very small fry compared with Ford, Vauxhall, Peugeot, Volkswagen and Renault, the Korean brand does, nonetheless, have a 1.6% market share and that's bigger than Hyundai, Mazda and Subaru.
But no diesel? Now there's a problem. And it's one which has the potential to blow a hole in any manufacturer's fleet aspirations in the light of Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown's Budget confirmation of carbon dioxide-based graduated Vehicle Excise Duty and company car tax.
Good on Daewoo because it has put plan B into action while it waits for a suitable diesel - bi-fuel liquefied petroleum gas conversions for all its Lanos, Nubira and Leganza petrol-engined models, 1.4-litre, 1.6 and 2.0. Matiz is expected to follow suit. Diesel engines emit far fewer grammes of CO2 per kilometre than petrol, but while LPG CO2 emissions are generally slightly higher than those of diesel, bi-fuel cars won't be clobbered with a 3% list price tax on top of the percentage dictated by the CO2 performance - provided the gas equipment is factory fit or the conversions such as those carried out by Tickford Engineering for Daewoo are type-approved.
Type-approval may mean that the cost of conversion element of the list price will be ignored for BIK calculations, adding further driver attraction to the bi-fuel Daewoos. This particular grey area is up for Government discussion. While not having the range of diesel and roughly on par with petrol, gaseous fuel is considerably cheaper than the other fuels (today's average LPG price is 39p per litre compared with 59p for diesel and 65p for petrol) and it doesn't emit PM10s, the smoke particulates that led the Government to announce its controversial 3% diesel penalty. Another environmental plus is that it produces 75% less carbon monoxide, 85% fewer hydrocarbons, 40% less nitrogen oxides and 87% less ozone.
Not all Daewoo's CO2 emissions figures were available at the time of going to press, but examples provided by the manufacturer were: Lanos 1.4 (164g/km), Lanos 1.6 (191g/km), Nubira 1.6 (191g/km) and Leganza 2.0 Auto (239g/km). That puts the Nubira 1.6, for instance, into the 20% of list price tax bracket - 2% above a low CO2 emitter such as the Volkswagen Golf 1.9 TDI which carries a 3% diesel penalty. By the second year of the tax regime, 2003/04, the Nubira will have moved up to 22% and in the third year to 24%.
Already well documented in Fleet NewsNet, the new regime will mean reduced tax bills for perk drivers who under the current system would have to pay up on 35% of the list price. Those who drive between 2,500 and 18,000 miles (now 25%) will be slightly better off, but higher-mileage drivers (now 15%) will have to get used to higher tax bills. There's a hefty premium of £2,100-£2,200 to pay for Daewoo's bi-fuel range, depending on the model, but the manufacturer reckons fleets can get their money back in less than 25,000 miles in fuel costs provided Powershift stumps up 50% of the conversion costs under its Government-funded rebate scheme.
Residual value remains a grey area, although there is a growing school of thought that by the time the cars appear on the used market after 60,000 miles, the refuelling infrastructure will have improved and retail buyers will have been sufficiently well educated to the cost saving and environmental benefits of LPG. Lanos petrol RVs are about 30% after three years/60,000 miles and Nubira and Leganza 26-27%, so they could do with a little help, but CAP Motor Research, which predicts them, still holds a conservative view. CAP Monitor editor Mark Norman said: 'Gas RVs will remain below those of petrol until there's a proper refuelling infrastructure and there's been no real sign of that yet.'
Meanwhile, conversion costs mean the Lanos bi-fuel range starts at £10,095, Nubira at £14,425 and Leganza at £16,225. Daewoo's national fleet operations manager Graham Howes is confident of selling as many as 600 LPG cars in a full year. 'We'll be concentrating our efforts on fleets in the public sector as traditionally those vehicles spend a large proportion of their working lives in built-up areas,' he said.
'Public sector fleets are always attracted by the lowest running costs and when Daewoo's package is coupled with the reduced fuel bills that are part and parcel of running LPG vehicles the proposition becomes a very tempting one.'
While Howes was left negotiating a 50-car deal with a 'northern authority', we drove converted Nubira 1.6 estate and Leganza 2.0 auto models on mixed urban routes from Daewoo's Hertfordshire headquarters to one of its West London flagship Motor Show centres. We won't trouble you again with the well documented ride, drive and handling merits and demerits of the Nubira and Leganza, nor with the standard features catalogue, because the object of the exercise was to establish whether we could tell the difference between a Daewoo running on petrol and one running on LPG.
We couldn't. And as our cars didn't run out of fuel we couldn't put the main problem with LPG to the test - finding a gas filling station before having to flip the fuel switch over to petrol.