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GM’s Botched Attempt at Starting a Korean Car Company Never Stood a Chance

GM is one of the mightiest names of all the American car makers, yet they’re known for having some pretty bad ideas from time to time. Therefore, you might be surprised or not surprised to learn that they once attempted to launch a car company in Korea.

That didn’t go quite so well.  After dragging itself out of bankruptcy court in 2010, GM made a surprising move that resulted in the Alpheon brand. Never heard of it? You’re not alone.

What on earth is an Alpheon?

A GM logo seen on the front grille of a car
The logo of U.S. carmaker General Motors | Sean Gallup/Getty Images

In 2010, GM was just coming out of bankruptcy and had been killing off brands like Pontiac and Saturn, and selling off brands like Saab and Hummer. The idea of them launching a brand-new brand was novel to say the least, and even more interesting because it was only happening in Korea. GM felt they needed a presence in the Korean high-end, midsize sedan segment, thus the Alpheon was born. 

According to GM Authority, Alpheon was introduced at the Bupyeong Auto Show in May of 2010 and produced at the GM Bupyeong plant in South Korea. It had GM’s V6 LF1 engine that the company was moving away from in North America, and a 6-speed automatic transmission. 

Spoiler alert — the Alpheon is really just a re-badged Buick LaCrosse. GM considered it a separate “luxury product” in Korea with its completely own branding and badging.

Many thought it was a car that the Korean market would embrace, but it turned out they didn’t really care what the badging had to say. They were just looking for a big, American-style sedan.

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According to GM Authority, they had mixed results from the project. The Alpheon was plagued by production issues, mainly from trying to get parts from the United States. Since the actual Buick LaCrosse was still being made in the U.S. at the time for American markets, assembly became an issue. 

Many observers felt that GM was a car company that simply couldn’t get out of its own way, especially in 2010. Many wondered why go to all the time and expense of creating new branding and badging for a car that was quite fine the way it was.  Critics also felt that GM was doing nothing to endear itself to the younger Korean car buying audience.

GM’s complex brand history in Korea

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The whole story of the Alpheon is even stranger because GM already had several things going on in Korea, including the Daewoo brand. With that purchase in 2001, it had formed the GM Daewoo Auto and Technology company.

In 2010, it was winding Daewoo down, but still had a national Chevrolet sales company in Korea, and they also had the Cadillac brand there as an entirely separate entity. 

With all this going on, it seemed like a fine time to launch the new Alpheon brand, which was really a Buick, which they definitely did not want to call a Chevrolet, and certainly was not a Daewoo.

All they really knew was they wanted a large sedan in Korea, and they went for it.  At the time, they were considering making the Alpheon a global brand, an idea that definitely did not work out. 

Diving into the Korean car market with a brand-new brand may not have been the best idea GM ever had, especially when it already had three other car companies there operating in various stages of success.

However, the Alpheon did last 5 years before GM changed its mind and decided the perfect sedan for the Korean market was the Chevrolet Impala. Hopefully, GM learned from its mistakes after this disaster.