By on February 22, 2016

2016 Fiat 500L

Union workers at the Fiat 500L factory in Serbia (the same factory that built those fancy Yugos) have been demanding raises and the addition of another model for months. The union representing those workers has promised it will work with the manufacturer to meet worker demands. But, if the latest newsletter is any indication of progress, there’s been none: the union hasn’t even been able to get the company to the bargaining table.

The union newsletter has gotten shorter over the past few months, and the February version is now down to a single page. The news items are both disappointing and somewhat comical as there only a few lines dedicated to the workers’ interests.

The first half of the newsletter states the union’s main goal for this year is the preservation of all jobs at the plant, and it’s planning to achieve that goal by negotiating with both of the factory’s owners: FCA Group (67 percent) and the Serbian government (33 percent).

FCA Serbia Union Newsletter

Union leaders state that they have met with a few FCA supervisors and brought up some of the workers issues, such as work stoppages and injuries on the job, but that they’ve not met with anyone that can take action yet on those items. The union does note that it did request a meeting with Silvia Vernetti, head of EMEA Development for Fiat, who could approve some of the requested changes. The union has also sent demands to the Serbian government, and additionally requested that the government send its own representative to the FCA Serbia board to assist in negotiations.

And that’s it.

The newsletter then takes an almost comical turn to sports and discounts. The middle section states that the union is happy to announce that basketball and soccer tournaments are returning this year, and will be accompanied by a dart tournament for the ladies.

The second half of the newsletter is dedicated to a union-negotiated charcoal discount and the various types of charcoal available to members. It might appear that the union is slowly putting together a cookout since they offered a chicken discount last year, but only large quantities are available. The cheapest package is one tonne of “Kolubara” charcoal for 6,500 RSD (approximately $58 USD based on current exchange rates). Another possibility is that the union leaders might be trying to help their workers get into the charcoal resale business as they also offer financing for large loads.

FCA Serbia Shut Down Notification

To add insult to injury, the newsletter was followed by a notification on Facebook that the factory will be shut down from February 24 to March 7. They state that the temporary shutdown is directly related to the lack of sales in European and world markets for the Fiat 500L. Worker morale is low and the union doesn’t seem to be doing too much to improve it by securing the positions of workers. Some are hoping that a new model line, such as the Tipo, will be added to the factory soon, but the prospects are bleak.

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54 Comments on “Meanwhile, in Serbian Union: Charcoal and Darts!...”


  • avatar
    Chan

    Don’t they produce anything other than the 500L at the Zastava–err, Serbian plant??

    If it’s as thoroughly modern as Fiat claims, it should accommodate other products easily.

    • 0 avatar

      Right now it is just the 500L. They have enough space to produce another model. The workers really want to get another model since it will add some stability to the factory.

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      Just the 500L. They built the Punto there previously.

      Since the Italian unions are more powerful, they get the 500X and Jeep Renegade.

    • 0 avatar
      heavy handle

      On a related note, it’s not “the same factory that built those fancy Yugos.” It’s a modern factory built in the same location. The quote makes it sound like they are still using 1950s machinery.

      • 0 avatar
        Chan

        The Zastava factory was bombed out in the Yugoslavian war, so that’s pretty much a given.

        I’m glad Fiat invested in that plant, but the 500L never caught on in a critical volume market–the US. That is a dangerous problem.

  • avatar
    RideHeight

    I’ve seen old cast iron stoves that approach the same level of ugly as the 500L’s front clip.

    But at least they weren’t yellow!

  • avatar
    cwallace

    Sheesh, we offer the employees a sweet discount on charcoal, and then close the plant for a couple of weeks so they can barbecue to their heart’s content, and still they complain!

  • avatar
    carlisimo

    Is the 500L’s woeful reliability their fault, or the designers’?

    • 0 avatar

      I think it is a little bit of both. The workers take great pride in their work and do a great job for the most part but I am sure things happen from time to time. Most of the locals try to do their work with precision which can be witnessed by the products of Zastava Arms, which is down the road from the 500L factory.

      • 0 avatar
        threeer

        I can concur with that, Bozi. Just came back from Serbia and witnessed firsthand the pride in production at one of the old(er) munitions facilities. While the equipment and methods were decades behind what is currently in use, the pride and effort were not in question. I’m looking forward to several more trips back in the coming months. It’s an interesting country, to be sure…the mix of pre-WWII, post WWII (communist era) and modern architecture (not to mention the remnants of numerous bombed-out structures) was eye-opening.
        Fun to see the Yugos, Ladas and occasional Trabant still running around. And I’ve found a new appreciation for rakija!

    • 0 avatar
      Chan

      There is no evidence, other than a questionable CR rating, that the 500L is significantly less reliable than the 500 or any other Fiat product.

      Fiat’s limited market penetration means any survey can be heavily skewed by the vocal minority who actually had “perceived problems.”

      The biggest “problem” afflicting the 500L is that people are burning up their DCT clutches. That is a driver problem, not a car problem.

      • 0 avatar
        mike9o

        How is it the driver’s fault if the DCT is burning up? Its an automated manual trans, not a driver controlled one.

        • 0 avatar
          Chan

          The car is programmed to auto-creep to simulate a torque converter automatic. That is arguably Fiat’s fault as it misleads people into believing that letting the car creep is OK. Fiat was probably afraid that the lack of creeping would scare American buyers on test drives. The car starts to feather the clutch shortly after the brake pedal is lifted.

          Actually letting the car creep rides the clutch and causes overheating in heavy traffic. That is the driver’s fault.

          Source: My wife has a 500L DCT.

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            “Actually letting the car creep rides the clutch and causes overheating in heavy traffic. That is the driver’s fault.

            How is a mechanical failure caused by utilizing a feature that Fiat programmed into the car the driver’s fault? Does the manual say to not let the vehicle creep?

            Maybe FCA should have looked into who buys their products before they foisted the DCT on the Dart and 500L. Even though that trans is largely replaced from those two now with a conventional automatic I think the damage is already done.

          • 0 avatar
            Chan

            OK you guys, I’m an arrogant victim blamer. But I will continue to argue that a basic understanding of what a DCT is beneficial before buying a car with one.

            Applied to a broader concept, a basic understanding of a car is required before buying one.

            Like I said, I agree that Fiat was silly for programming this stupid “creep” into a car that shouldn’t creep. Knowing this, why would any owner let the car do it? Each DCT 500L arrived at the dealer with a “Euro Twin Clutch” tag tied around the shifter boot, clearly stating that it is not a conventional Automatic transmission. Fiat should also have added more cautionary statements to the Owner’s Manual, such as not to rely on the auto-creep for slow traffic.

            Fiat does a lot of stupid things, including using a DCT for a US-market car to begin with. But consumer awareness helps avoid these weaknesses, even though the responses to my comments here seem to indicate that Fiat should give a free slushbox to every DCT 500L owner.

          • 0 avatar
            RideHeight

            “Knowing this, why would any owner let the car do it?”

            Because every other car they ever drove was DESIGNED to do that without harm to any component and they never, EVER came into contact with any person both able and willing to inform them how *this* car was different so they couldn’t be “knowing this”?

            How amazingly ignorant you are of the non-cognoscenti car buyer.

          • 0 avatar
            Chan

            @ RideHeight
            Yes, I’m also amazingly ignorant of non-enthusiast car buyers. What would you suggest Fiat do about this? Take an even trade for a 6AT 500L for every DCT complaint?

            The window sticker says twin clutch. The shifter boot says twin clutch. Someone buying the car ought to have noticed that and attempted to understand it. Dealers should explain this and they are part of the problem.

            I will concede that Fiat, its dealer network and the end users are all part of the DCT problem. I refuse to absolve the driver of all blame. It’s not a slush box and the labels on the car make that clear. So…….this is a reliability issue, how?

          • 0 avatar
            RideHeight

            “I refuse to absolve the driver of all blame.”

            You should teach math. Your obdurate refusal to consider what a student actually *does* know versus what they *should* know would assure hundreds if not thousands of underachieving, self-recriminating menials for our service economy.

            You could make a difference!

          • 0 avatar
            Chan

            So in addition to calling me ignorant, obdurate, etc. Can you explain where the defect is? Where the reliability problem is? You’ve pretty much conceded that the buyer is ignorant, which is exactly what I said.

            There is nothing wrong with that. It’s Fiat’s job to understand their market, and the DCT was a mis-step.

            What’s up with the name calling? Got an axe to grind?

          • 0 avatar
            RideHeight

            You can’t spend decades conditioning a particular consumer response only to abruptly change the response consequences and expect unchanged behavior from a consumer of whom you can have no rational expectation of realizing or understanding that change.

            If you think a tiny line or two in a Monroney referring to an acronym never before encountered by someone who wouldn’t even understand “slushbox” is going to embed itself in that person’s consciousness you have an Aspie’s tunnel vision.

        • 0 avatar
          Chan

          Thus, the driver should not drive the car as if it is a torque converter automatic.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            It’s an automatic transmission. People should drive it like an automatic transmission. If not, then it is a bad transmission. The Fiat DCT is even worse than the Powershit DCT in the Fiesta/Focus.

      • 0 avatar
        heavy handle

        The DCT was replaced by a torque converter automatic a few model-years back. It might still be available on the base model, but nobody would buy a base 500L, it’s just there to have a low “starting-at” price.

        • 0 avatar
          Chan

          The DCT is always a bad idea for introducing a car to the US market. American drivers don’t even know how a transmission works–only a “go” pedal and a “stop” pedal.

          • 0 avatar
            RideHeight

            Blaming the victims.

          • 0 avatar
            SP

            Basically everyone in America knows what an automatic transmission is supposed to do. It’s supposed to let you drive the car with the “go” and “stop” pedals and the steering wheel. The whole concept of the auto trans exists so that drivers don’t have to worry about the transmission, and can instead pay attention to the road, traffic signals, cars around them, the kids in the back seat, and so on.

            If the DCT requires active driver involvement to prevent it from destroying itself, then it is worse than a conventional automatic transmission.

            Without qualification.

            Because it fails to achieve the one quality that is the reason for its existence.

            If Fiat dealerships did not inform the customers of the fact that the DCT is programmed to self-destruct, then Fiat is at fault.

        • 0 avatar
          Chan

          Our 500L was a 2014, no slush box available then. Only in 2015 did the 6AT become widely available. Fiat should never have put a DCT in a US-market family car. Most American drivers have no concept of what a transmission does.

      • 0 avatar

        I also fail to understand how its the owner’s fault for poor DCT reliability unless people are towing cuddy cabins with their 500Ls.

  • avatar
    VoGo

    We need a reporter on the scene to give us an eye witness account of the turmoil. Paging Grango!

  • avatar

    Meanwhile, this from Peter DeLorenzo.

    http://www.autoextremist.com/

    US Fiat franchises are at the five-year mark and up for renewal, and many are angry enough at FCA they’re not renewing.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      I say good because it was done backwards in the first place. Fiat never needed a separate distribution channel and should have been sold through FCA. If it had succeeded then it could have simply been split, instead dealers were forced to spend their own money on palatial new buildings for a brand and product which were risky at best.

      • 0 avatar
        VoGo

        FCA is begging for a reduction in their variety of makes. Jeep and Ram are winners (as long as gas is cheap) but the rest are in big trouble.

        Chrysler: 300 dying. 200 dead. So you pin your hopes on a minivan?
        Dodge: the car brand for rednecks, except that rednecks don’t buy cars; they buy trucks
        Fiat: like Mini, but without the reliability or character
        Alfa: like Jaguar, but without the reliability or character

        Sergio: Plymouth and AMC need company in orphanland.

      • 0 avatar

        Building a seperate Fiat Studio on an existing CDJ lot is one thing; a true standalone Fiat Studio? That takes some real big ones.

    • 0 avatar
      Chan

      Fiat should never have tried to open dealerships with their own brand name. They knew they would return to the US as a niche brand, and niche brands don’t provide the volume to justify occupying dedicated real estate.

      Should have gone with the Toyota/Scion model, where certain CJD dealerships got the extra Fiat branding based on market and volume.

  • avatar

    I can pick up 500L EASYs with low miles routinely in the $10s-11s. But why? No one wants them, not even subprime people. And this is a market used to Mirages, Galants, Endeavors, Avengers, Sebrings, Journeys, and Versa Notes.

    • 0 avatar
      Chan

      The lower the price bracket, the more buyers are dependent on word-of-mouth and anecdotal impressions. This is the unfortunate reality.

      If I can only get a loan for a $12k car, should I “apply critical thinking” or “give this brand a chance”? No, I’m going to go with tried-and-true brands because in my past experience they have not let me down on my time-critical commute. As a Fiat owner, I don’t blame them.

      It’s all the better for me. In the fortunate position to be able to “experiment” with cars, I do like Fiats and would definitely take advantage of their abysmal resale value later on.

    • 0 avatar
      VoGo

      I don’t think there is a car that shouts more loudly “I really don’t want to get laid.”

      • 0 avatar
        Chan

        Well, we bought our 500L to be the family hauler, and it excels at that while having a small physical footprint. So your point only applies to the pre-kids stage.

      • 0 avatar
        RideHeight

        Is there an Italian term for that stack-of-random-junk aesthetic of the front-end design?

        I’ve never seen anything so capriciously ugly in Western culture. And even a Noh mask has some theatrical purpose.

        It’s almost like some crazy person imposed this upon the company by fiat.

        • 0 avatar
          iNeon

          Yeah– there is a term for that ‘stack-of-random-junk aesthetic’

          Someone else’s pretty. Someone else’s handsome. Someone else’s adorable.

          Let those people think this is cute, won’t you?

          • 0 avatar
            RideHeight

            “Let those people think this is cute, won’t you?”

            Any variant of brain wiring powerful enough to produce *that* ain’t gonna be affected by little ol’ me.

        • 0 avatar
          heavy handle

          “I’ve never seen anything so capriciously ugly”

          I take it the new Civic isn’t out yet where you live?

          • 0 avatar
            RideHeight

            It may be; I only look closely enough at little crampy cars to ensure we don’t meet.

            From photos I know it continues Honda’s choice of slanty, insectoid fascia. I find that preferable to Toyota’s fish lips theme.

            And I find ’30s European kitchen appliances preferable to this poor Fiat miscreant.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    But the Pope was chauffeured around in one! After Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S many dealers claimed there was a spike in sales of the 500L, after that they declined.

  • avatar
    N8iveVA

    I sat in one at the auto show to see if it was as awkward on the inside as it was outside. I noticed the trim in the corner of the door window on the inside of where the mirror is was askew so i gave it a nudge and it fell off in my hand. I figured that didn’t bode well for this model. The attractive lady that was talking about it came over and helped me push it back on and just smiled.

    • 0 avatar
      Chan

      Fiat build quality! Did you open the hood and check out how much black duct tape and velcro is used to hold loose wires and non-critical hoses like the wiper fluid hoses? It’s hilarious.

  • avatar
    misha1973

    Greetings from Serbia!
    I must say I was rather surprised by this news, as there aren’t mentioned in general news here. There is mostly talk about coming elections and who was having sex in numerous and amazingly popular reality shows…

    Back to 500L. They are somewhat popular here amongst “fancy crowd” (those who care more about superficial perception of quality…well, interior looks kinda nice, from a distance… ) and more often bought as company vehicle for travelling comercial representants (we could just call them salesman). FIAT sells them often at discount (I wonder why…), either through bring-your-old-junk-we’ll-knock-of-few-grand-off-the-price-of-new-car deals, or straightforward discounts.

    Most popular version would be 1.4 petrol with factory LPG kit, then comes petrol (bought mostly by those aforementioned “fancies”, doing about 5000km/year, so no lpg is needed) and 1.3 diesel version coming last. From what I hear (have a few friends amongst taxi drivers, who also use them), 1.3l diesel is just underpowered for 500L.
    Recently they introduces CNG version, with two-cylindre, 0.9litre turbo engine, and 80 bhp, and even I was tempted to buy…but, then I got to my senses, and realized that such a small engine, in car weighing probably close to 1400kg with CNG gas tanks, would just be dangerously slowm even with turbo.
    And of course, we don’t get DCT or automatic version on our market, but reliability still sucks…


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