DETROIT – As General Motors Corp. and South Korea’s Daewoo Motor Co. Ltd. this week ink their long-awaited $1.2 billion deal, Daewoo’s 525 U.S. dealers remain uncertain about their future.

See a chronology of events in the GM/Daewoo Deal

The agreement, which sees GM taking control of Daewoo’s selected assets, does not include the U.S. marketing and sales arm, and there has been no official word on the dealers’ status from GM or Daewoo Motor America.

“No one has told me yet that I’m not a dealer,” says Rick Varley, owner of Daewoo of Hermitage in Hermitage, PA, and co-chairman of Daewoo’s Dealer Council Ad Hoc Committee. “Daewoo America doesn’t know anything. I can tell you this, we’ve been sucker-punched. It’s like being on death row and not knowing when the execution is going to happen.”

“Everything we know is coming from the media,” agrees Sal Sinardi, finance manager for Daewoo of Milford, a member of the Zee Auto Group in Connecticut. “It’s been very difficult to reach Daewoo,” agrees Prince Ebo of Springfield Daewoo in Springfield, PA. “They’re not returning our phone calls.”

Daewoo has been selling cars in the U.S. since 1999, and while sales initially were strong, they have been slipping ever since. Ward’s data shows Daewoo Motor America in 2001 sold 48,296 units, falling 29.4% compared with prior year. Some 15,159 cars have been sold in the first three months of the current year, a dip of 4.2% compared with the year-ago period.

In an interview with Ward’s in South Korea just before the signing of the agreement with Daewoo, Frederick A. “Fritz” Henderson, GM’s newly appointed president of GM Asia/Pacific, says: “We decided not to acquire Daewoo’s operations in the U.S. and Canada based on the results of our due diligence, the state of the business there, the state of the brands and the long-term outlook for those operations.”

Yet, Varley says Daewoo dealers up to a month ago were fairly confident in their future. “In October, 31 of our dealers went to Korea and saw the future products, and they were great,” he says.

“A month ago, we had the Magnus in our store and were being told we were going to start getting them in July. And then the rumors started that GM wasn’t going to purchase the U.S. division.” (see related story: Daewoo Dealers Mad Over GM Decision to Use Own U.S. Sales Networks)

Daewoo Motor America in April said it was laying off 60-70 employees at its Compton, CA, U.S. headquarters, more than half its office staff, according to a report in USA Today.

Gary Connelly, vice president of sales and operations for Daewoo’s U.S. arm, said in the report that the U.S. arm has not received any money from its insolvent parent since September. "We don’t have any money. We haven’t made any money in two weeks," Connelly told the newspaper.

Dealers seem confused over customer service and warranties. Daewoo has about 160,000 car owners in the U.S. “We are being told that the customer doesn’t have to worry. Warranties and parts will be taken care of,” says Mike Scott, general manager for Cherokee Suzuki/Daewoo in Tennessee. “That’s what the dealers are most scared about – not being able to take care of the customer.”

Says Varley: “It certainly looks like I can rest my hat on the fact that my customers are going to be okay, but we haven’t been told where to send the bill to yet, so we really don’t know how the customer is going to be serviced.”

Meanwhile, dealers are exploring their legal options, having retained the services of Dan Myers, a Florida-based attorney. “We’re moving ahead with a class action lawsuit (against GM),” Varley says. “Texas dealers have already filed a junction in court to stop the whole process.”