Home » The Philippines-Market Chevrolet Lumina Was A Really Weird Exercise In Badge Engineering: GM Hit Or Miss

The Philippines-Market Chevrolet Lumina Was A Really Weird Exercise In Badge Engineering: GM Hit Or Miss

Lumina Topshot W Bug
ADVERTISEMENT

If you thought the North American GM lineup was weird in the 2000s, just wait until you see the sort of stuff on offer across the globe. As an example of just how far badge engineering can go, let’s take a quick trip to the Philippines to look at an odd-looking Chevrolet bearing the very familiar Lumina name. Welcome back to GM Hit or Miss, where we delve through GM’s “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” pre-bankruptcy product strategy in search of some true curiosities.

Lumina Profile

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Let’s start with the Lumina nameplate itself. In the early 1990s, Chevrolet was looking for a fresh start with the replacement for the competent but otherwise unremarkable Celebrity and landed on Lumina for its next family car. The Lumina name went on to adorn several sedans, a coupe, and a peculiar minivan, most of which were based on GM’s ubiquitous W-Body platform that also underpinned hits like the Pontiac Grand Prix. Once the darlings of rental car fleets, the first-generation models like you see below were largely turned into Maytags by the early 2010s, so don’t feel ashamed if you’ve never seen one before in your life.

Lumina Usdm

Although the North American Lumina was firmly replaced by the front-wheel-drive Impala in 2001, Chevrolet actually sold two different Luminas in the mid-2000s. The one that car enthusiasts like to remember was a rebadged Holden Commodore, a fire-breathing V8 sedan for the Middle East and South Africa. The one that everyone forgets about was sold in the Philippines and it was one of the cars of all time.

ADVERTISEMENT

Lumina 2

At the time, GM’s return to the Philippines wasn’t going so well. Opel had largely floundered, exiting the market in 2003. At the same time, Japanese imports represented a huge slice of the car market, with mid-size sedans from Honda and Toyota among the most desired vehicles by consumers. General Motors needed a midsize sedan for the Philippines, and the answer laid in China.

While the Chinese car market is now an amazing thing full of vehicles ranging from tiny city cars to electric supercars that can jump in place, things were very different 25 years ago. At the time, China’s economy was still developing and a handful of established carmakers had formed joint ventures to allow for local production. One of the carmakers was GM, and an early Chinese-market success was Buick. In fact, the Buick Regal was the first vehicle produced by what we now know as SAIC-GM way back in 1997, so of course GM thought it would be the perfect base for a new midsize sedan.

Lumina Rear

When I say base, what I really mean is that the Regal is the Lumina. GM changed the badges and that’s it. While this seems cynical for anyone used to the Buick Regal, chances are you wouldn’t notice a difference if you’d never seen a Regal in your life. It’s the same sort of excuse Maserati used around FCA family switchgear – if you’re looking to buy a Quattroporte, you’ve probably never driven a Dart.

ADVERTISEMENT

Lumina Interior

Basic rebadge done, now for GM’s marketing plan. In a tale as old as time, the Chevrolet Lumina was supposed to be more car for the money than its rivals. The Lumina competed with the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, but it came chock full of standard equipment. You got leather upholstery, the finest fake wood from the Roger B. Smith school of carpentry, anti-lock brakes, electronic climate control, and a CD player that could pump tunes through no fewer than six speakers. Sounds awfully plush, doesn’t it?

Lumina Engine

Power came from a tiny 2.5-liter version of GM’s familiar 60-degree iron-block pushrod V6 [Editor’s Note: What the? What a tiny V6, and a cam-in-block one at that! -DT] making just 145 horsepower and 155 lb.-ft. of torque, and the Lumina’s slowness was guaranteed by a standard four-speed automatic transmission. I’m talking zero-to-62 mph in 12.8 seconds and a top speed of 107 mph. Those are some very 20th-century numbers for a midsize sedan with a V6, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles. Not every nation on earth has incredibly cheap gasoline prices and sometimes economy is the name of the game.

While its powertrain wasn’t exactly inspiring, was the Lumina bad to drive? Not entirely, if an unusually horny review by the Philippine Star is to be believed.

ADVERTISEMENT

I had the Lumina for a week and on the second or third day realized one thing: that the Lumina was like a simple, down-to-earth girl-next-door whose virtues became obvious once you start living with her, er, it. Case in point: Performance is not overwhelming but the overall ride quality is sooo creamy smooth that you feel cosseted in a lover’s tight embrace. Okay, the car’s soft suspension settings make it feel twitchy, especially when upset by bumps in a middle of a curve taken at moderate to high speeds; but the Lumina is no BMW nor does it pretend to be.

Um, thanks for that insight. The Lumina doesn’t sound that different from the Buick Regal that it is, which feels about as surprising as learning that the sky is indeed blue.

Lumina 1

So, did this approach of offering big car room and comfort for midsize money work out for GM? Well, no. The Lumina lasted from 2005 until 2007, not a particularly long production run by any stretch of the imagination. These days, they’re rare sights on Filipino classified ad sites, which leads me to believe that this rebadge of a Buick launched in the ‘90s never really took off. It’s hardly surprising given that the Filipino Accord was largely akin to the excellent seventh-generation North American model that took midsize car refinement to new heights in America.

Lumina Rear 2

At the end of the day, we have to call it: Was the Philippines-market Chevrolet Lumina a hit or a miss? I’m going with a miss on this one. This weird but deeply uncompetitive rebadge job is a good portrait of pre-bankruptcy GM’s worst attributes: laziness, contempt, an endless war between car people and accountants. Occasionally this seemingly dysfunctional corporate ruling strategy churned out something magnificent like the GMC Envoy XUV, but most of the time it resulted in subpar products that failed the sniff test as soon as someone open-minded compared them to leading competitors. Mind you, the final front-wheel-drive Lumina is still gloriously odd and deserves a place in a GM collection of some sort. Remember, just because a car isn’t near the top of its class doesn’t mean it’s not interesting.

ADVERTISEMENT

(Photo credits: Philkotse sellers, Chevrolet)

Support our mission of championing car culture by becoming an Official Autopian Member.

Relatedbar

Got a hot tip? Send it to us here. Or check out the stories on our homepage.

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on whatsapp
WhatsApp
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on reddit
Reddit
Subscribe
Notify of
17 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Chi_spotting
Chi_spotting
1 year ago

When I owned a Century, I really wanted those Chinese Regal tail lights for the amber signal. Good to know those same tail lights exist in the Philippines too.

EricTheViking
EricTheViking
1 year ago

At least, it has amber turn signal indicators in the taillamps, which the US version of Buick Regal didn’t have. Two brownie points for Chevrolet Lumina.

Cam.man67
Cam.man67
1 year ago

That review you linked to is…something else. Never have I ever thought GM’s 60-degree V6 sounded good or ran smoothly…apparently I’m mistaken as the journalist alleges it compares favorably to BMW. Hmm.

RalliartWagon
RalliartWagon
1 year ago

3rd paragraph: “…and it was one of the cars of all time.”

I think this really sums up ’90’s GM very well.

Alec Harvey
Alec Harvey
1 year ago

You have to do an article on the 1989 Pontiac LeMans that was sold in New Zealand. Definitely not as cool as it sounds

James Mitchell
James Mitchell
1 year ago
Reply to  Alec Harvey

It was sold in the US as well.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
1 year ago

At least it does look better without the ersatz Buick cake decorations.

Iwannadrive637
Iwannadrive637
1 year ago

With that grill it’s as handsome as any Infiniti sedan of the time.

Dogisbadob
Dogisbadob
1 year ago

Hey, look! It has better tail lights, with amber turn signals 😀

Also, the Chinese Regal was available with the Ecotec and 5-speed manual. Fucking awesome.

There’s also teh Chevy Forester from India. Too bad the Forester SS was just the EJ turbo and not an LS1 (LS swaps have been done in Subarus before), and replacing the shiity boxer with a real engine would actually make it good–but that would mean GM actually making something better, which is a strict no-no

GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
1 year ago
Reply to  Dogisbadob

The Chinese New Century had amber signals added too, but tucked in the same full-width light cluster that Century/Regal had here. So actually they differentiated the two more there, than they did for the home market.

Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
1 year ago

I hear there’s a secret owners group called the Luminati.

Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
1 year ago

“ largely turned into Maytags by the early 2010s, so don’t feel ashamed if you’ve never seen one before in your life.”

Gee, nice way to make your older readers feel welcome.

I seem to remember a NASCAR racer disguised as one as well as those plastic minivans.

Taargus Taargus
Taargus Taargus
1 year ago

That rear shot reminds me that nobody beat GM during that era when it came to absolutely gigantic taillight assemblies. My personal favorite being the Olds Alero.

That review of the Lumina sure is something, lol.

OnlyFlans
OnlyFlans
1 year ago

When I first saw this article, I thought “Oh look, a rebadged Buick Century”. Apparently, it’s a rebadged Regal. Which got me nostalgic, wondering if there was really any difference between the two. I did some research and, thankfully, my misidentifying the car on which this Lumina is based is somewhat reasonable. The difference between the Century and Regal was…not much. The engine, and maybe 1 or 2 MPG advantage for the Century. They look so much alike I would be hard pressed to differentiate them if they were sitting side-by-side.

Alexander Moore
Alexander Moore
1 year ago
Reply to  OnlyFlans

When I see a final gen Buick Century I think, “Oh look, a rebadged Buick Regal”. Seriously, why did GM sell the same car under two different nameplates? I guess they are fond of that, just like the Vauxhall Omega being called the ‘Vauxhall Elite’ at the top of the range, or the Holden “it’s not a Commodore” Calais.

GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
1 year ago

The nameplates did overlap in the RWD A-bodies with Regal spinning off from the Century name back in the 1970s, so there was precedent, but I don’t think GM even leaned on that bit of history when they brought them out.

I saw an old mid-90s “new car preview” from some mag that mentioned the next Olds Cutlass and Buick Century joining Chevy’s version of the next N-body that replaced the Corsica, aka the Malibu. Cutlass of course did, but Century didn’t, which made me wonder if it was just an assumption by the source it was as it was Ciera and Century twins that were being replaced, or if it really was the original intent and then GM changed their mind.

I could see something like the latter happening because the N-bodies had basically phased out the bench seat/column shift combo at that point, which was the only way you could get a Century – that would have definitely alienated some Buick buyers. Sizing probably wouldn’t have been an issue, as the Malibu was a much better packaged car than the Grand Am/etc.

But it was also probably in part to help move the Regal ‘upmarket’ as it made a floor shift and the 3800 standard with the supercharged version optional in that gen too.

T-Keith
T-Keith
1 year ago
Reply to  OnlyFlans

This has no rocker panel covers and uses the 60deg V6, so this is really more of a Century than Regal. Although in China they only sold a Regal, but it was eqivalent to our Century.

17
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x