The Truth About Cars » Yugo http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sat, 14 Feb 2015 13:23:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Yugo http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Book Review: The Yugo: The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/02/book-review-yugo-rise-fall-worst-car-history/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/02/book-review-yugo-rise-fall-worst-car-history/#comments Wed, 04 Feb 2015 15:41:37 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=993850 Society likes stories about failure. Who knows how many people have bought books about the fall of financial institutions, tech companies, sports teams, organized crime families, and politicians? People interested in the automotive industry are no exception when it comes to stories of failure. Bob Lutz never wastes any time discussing the sales flop that […]

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Society likes stories about failure. Who knows how many people have bought books about the fall of financial institutions, tech companies, sports teams, organized crime families, and politicians? People interested in the automotive industry are no exception when it comes to stories of failure. Bob Lutz never wastes any time discussing the sales flop that was the Pontiac Aztek. A movie was made about the failure of the Tucker Car Corporation. And society as a whole loves to tell jokes about the Yugo, widely thought of as among the worst cars of recent history.

But sometimes it’s just as worthwhile to read about the achievements, especially when attaining the end goal seems improbable. The achievements are what historian Jason Vuic focuses on in The Yugo: The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History. To Vuic, the fact that a group of people managed to get together and sell the Zastava Yugo in the United States was an extraordinary achievement, illustrating the circumstances to the last detail. He emphasizes the projects undertaken by Yugo America Inc., from making sure the Yugo could meet US emissions standards, that the construction of the car could meet actual quality standards, and gain customers.

The story of the Yugo would not be complete without the story of Malcolm Bricklin, and Vuic doesn’t disappoint in that area. Vuic first covers Bricklin and his foray into a franchising hardware stores (which went belly-up due to lack of a warehouse) before writing about the automotive-related ventures. Vuic starts by dedicating a chapter to Bricklin introducing Subaru to America. (He was promptly forced out of Subaru by new investors after the Subaru 360 was given a terrible review by the Consumers Union.) After that there’s another chapter on the Bricklin SV-1. (The SV-1 stood for Safety Vehicle 1; it wasn’t, with heavy, leaky doors and shoddy fiberglass-backed acrylic body panels.) And then comes a chapter about Bricklin importing the FIAT X1/9 and the Spider. (Those were way too expensive for the 1980s.)

By the first third of the book and before ending the story of the Yugo in America, Vuic portrays Bricklin as a man capable of raising immense amounts of money, but ultimately incapable of producing lasting results. However, Vuic emphasizes the achievements rather than failures. In the case of Subaru, Bricklin at least brought Subaru to America. For the Bricklin SV-1, at least Malcolm Bricklin got as far as building an assembly line and delivering 1,800 cars. As for bringing the X1/9 and Spider back to America, at least he had a business partner that made important improvements to the cars.

Vuic gives numerous anecdotes of the challenges endured in ensuring the Yugo was ready for America. For instance, Vuic tells of a long fax sent to the Yugo factory in Kragujevac by Tony Ciminera, the senior vice president for production and engineering. Called the “four-meter fax” by Zastava managers, it specified all the parts of the car that needed to be added or fixed by the factory. Another involved Zastava employees drinking brandy every morning and during breaks, which seriously concerned American employees in charge of getting the cars built to US standards. One more story involved the separate “Yugo-A” line at the factory, when Zastava bosses nixed the idea of having a select group of workers be eligible for higher wages and possible bonuses for meeting targets, stating that it was impossible in their system. When Ciminera pointed out that the bosses rode to work in Mercedes cars, he received the response that “Some workers are more equal than others.”

Unlike Malcolm Bricklin’s past ventures, Yugo America took a number of steps to be taken seriously. One thing they did was hire Kissinger and Associates, Henry Kissinger’s consulting firm, to bring on a consultant named Lawrence Eagleburger, who was a former ambassador to Yugoslavia. Additionally, Henry Kissinger was needed when Yugo America considered importing the Proton Saga built in Malaysia (a rebadged second-generation Mitsubishi Mirage), due to his relationship with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad, and Yugo America agreed to some hefty consulting fees ($200,000 and $10 from each Proton Saga sold in the United States). They spent millions of dollars on an ad campaign that aired when most Americans watched the evening news. The car had around 250 dealers.

As Vuic is a historian, he also concentrates on the Yugo’s impact on foreign policy. During the 1980s, American companies were looking to do business in Yugoslavia, and the Yugo was a public symbol of the relationship between the two countries. The U.S. ambassador to Yugoslavia had a Yugo and traveled to local functions in the car. In the case of Yugoslavian foreign policy, exporting the Yugo was a source of hard currency for paying off massive foreign debts. Croatians did not like the Yugo as the car was built in the Serbian part of Yugoslavia and staged public protests against the Yugo’s export, due to Yugoslavia’s human rights record and the existence of political prisoners.

Close to the end of the book, Vuic puts the spotlight on one last accomplishment. And that was the Yugo’s ability to become a part of American popular culture despite the car’s exceptionally slow sales. The advertisements during the evening news put the word “Yugo” in people’s mouths. Jay Leno alluded to the Yugo during his routines on The Tonight Show during the late 1980s. David Letterman sometimes mentioned it in his Top Ten lists. The Yugo became a punchline for newspaper columnists across the country. Baby boomers will know what the Yugo was, while their faces will turn blank if asked about the Vector.

In the end, despite the accomplishments, Yugo America had to go bankrupt. The cars didn’t sell and had way too many defects, especially when compared to the cheap Japanese cars a decade earlier. There was a great deal of trepidation about safety. The fall of communism in Eastern Europe and the pending breakup of Yugoslavia meant the country had more on its mind than exporting Yugos. Furthermore, parts for the car came from different Yugoslav republics, so it was nearly impossible to continue building cars amid the tension in the region. By 1992, the Yugo couldn’t come to America anymore due to lack of inventory and lack of sales. There were no more achievements for Vuic to write about, only failures.

Be aware that this book doesn’t read like any of the Bob Lutz books. It does read like something assigned by a college history professor to undergraduate students. (All the footnotes throughout the book give that impression.) But the book’s significance lies in the fact that during the 1980s, when customers began buying up Honda, Toyota, and Nissan cars in droves, leading to a deluge of books analyzing the business practices of Japanese companies, the Yugo experience in this book provides a notable contrast, chronicling the things that went wrong for a brand with plenty of potential.

All in all, The Yugo is an excellent read, depicting the accomplishment of bringing a car made in a Communist-bloc country to America. Considering the descriptions of the factory that made it, the portrayal of the individuals involved in bringing it to America, and the quality of the Yugo itself, the fact the car was sold in the United States at all is commendable. Nevertheless, the Yugo couldn’t ever be sold in America for an extended period of time, and sooner rather than later the project ended in failure.

Satish Kondapavulur is a writer for Clunkerture, where about a fifth of the articles are about old cars and where his one-time LeMons racing dreams came to an end, once he realized it was impossible to run a Ferrari Mondial. If you happen to have a Yugo in Northern California, he would love to drive it sometime. (He’ll even buy a tank of gas to help double the value of the car.)

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Behind the Garages At Sears Point: Treasure Trove of Hell Projects! http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/03/behind-the-garages-at-sears-point-treasure-trove-of-hell-projects/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/03/behind-the-garages-at-sears-point-treasure-trove-of-hell-projects/#comments Thu, 28 Mar 2013 13:00:25 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=482582 I visit Sears Point aka Sonoma Raceway a couple times a year as part of my gig as Chief Justice of the 24 Hours of LeMons Supreme Court. That means I do a lot of roaming around the facility, in search of vantage points to shoot photos of the action. Last weekend, while covering the […]

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I visit Sears Point aka Sonoma Raceway a couple times a year as part of my gig as Chief Justice of the 24 Hours of LeMons Supreme Court. That means I do a lot of roaming around the facility, in search of vantage points to shoot photos of the action. Last weekend, while covering the fourth annual Sears Pointless race, I stumbled on a parking area outside a line of race shops just on the other side of the wall near Turn 10. Inside these shops were all manner of high-buck machines, but the get-to-it-someday stuff sitting outside was pretty interesting.
A well-weathered Lotus Europa with tags expired only six years— how hard could this project be?
Or a BMW 850 with peeling clear-coat and some body damage. Depreciation hasn’t been kind to these cars.
As a matter of fact, there was a LeMons 850 racing at Sears Point at the very moment I was admiring the potential project 850. It got stomped by a Buick Skyhawk and an MGB, among other glacially slow “race cars,” but it was still quite luxurious-looking on the track.
Guys that work at race shops cannot resist buying a Yugo when the opportunity presents itself.
This mean-looking Maverick Vega drag car looks like it has run fairly recently.
The kids these days, they like those Nissan Silvias.
This car sure looks familiar! This Plymouth looks like it might even be a runner (in stark contrast to my car, which has been dismantled down to the molecular level).
BMW E9 projects are always so tempting, though I’ve heard the horror stories from those who have attempted to fix up a non-perfect E9. Run away!

01 - Sears Point Hell Projects - Picture courtesy of Murilee 'Judge Phil' Martin 02 - Sears Point Hell Projects - Picture courtesy of Murilee 'Judge Phil' Martin 03 - Sears Point Hell Projects - Picture courtesy of Murilee 'Judge Phil' Martin 04 - Sears Point Hell Projects - Picture courtesy of Murilee 'Judge Phil' Martin 06 - Sears Point Hell Projects - Picture courtesy of Murilee 'Judge Phil' Martin 07 - Sears Point Hell Projects - Picture courtesy of Murilee 'Judge Phil' Martin 08 - Sears Point Hell Projects - Picture courtesy of Murilee 'Judge Phil' Martin 09 - Sears Point Hell Projects - Picture courtesy of Murilee 'Judge Phil' Martin 591-UG-Pointless13

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More Details On The Fiat Ellezero aka “Grande 500″ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/more-details-on-the-fiat-ellezero-aka-grande-500/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/more-details-on-the-fiat-ellezero-aka-grande-500/#comments Thu, 19 Jan 2012 16:52:41 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=427349 Our European Best and Brightest dropped some knowledge on us, informing TTAC that the Fiat Panda, was not going to be Fiat’s new 5-door vehicle coming to the U.S. Instead, the vehicle we’ll be receiving is a new car codenamed the “Ellezero”, which will be based on a modified Panda platform but look a lot […]

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Our European Best and Brightest dropped some knowledge on us, informing TTAC that the Fiat Panda, was not going to be Fiat’s new 5-door vehicle coming to the U.S.

Instead, the vehicle we’ll be receiving is a new car codenamed the “Ellezero”, which will be based on a modified Panda platform but look a lot like the Mini Countryman. Prototype pictures have leaked out of Fiat’s Serbian plant (which once built the Yugo) – the image above appears to show the car outside the factory gates, while wearing Belgrade license plates. Engine choices are said to be the 900cc TwinAir powerplant, a diesel and the 1.4L turbocharged MultiAir engine. Guess which choices won’t be coming Stateside? Seven seats are said to be an option, though we can’t imagine anyone other than pygmies being comfortable back there. AWD will also be offered.

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Curbside Classic: 1988 Hyundai Excel – The Damn Near Deadly Sin http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/11/curbside-classic-1988-hyundai-excel-the-damn-near-deadly-sin/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/11/curbside-classic-1988-hyundai-excel-the-damn-near-deadly-sin/#comments Tue, 16 Nov 2010 16:58:36 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=372753 Americans are a forgiving sort, and redemption from sin is just the right gesture away. Well, that applies more to politicians and celebrities than to car companies. It can be a little more challenging to overcome the damage from a poor quality car, especially if you’re the brand new kid on the block. Just ask […]

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Americans are a forgiving sort, and redemption from sin is just the right gesture away. Well, that applies more to politicians and celebrities than to car companies. It can be a little more challenging to overcome the damage from a poor quality car, especially if you’re the brand new kid on the block. Just ask Yugo; they quickly walked away. As did Peugeot, Alfa, Fiat and countless other imports, even though they had been around for decades.  But the Koreans are a tough and determined folk, and when they got their less-than Excellent head handed to them on a platter, they dug in their heels and figured out what it would take to be given a second chance. 

The Excel was Hyundai’s first fully self-developed car, which suggests that they might well have waited a couple of years before tackling the world’s biggest and must demanding car market. Hyundai Motors itself got its start in 1967, building licensed Ford Cortinas. The next big leap forward came in 1975, when the Pony appeared (below).

Technically, the Pony was developed by Hyundai too, but with a lot of hired help. George Turnbull, former Managing Director of Austin-Morris at British Leyland quit in 1972, and as a parting gift (to himself?), took two Austin Marinas with him. Turnbull and the Marinas turned up at Hyundai, along with some other ex-BL designers and engineers. The resulting RWD Pony certainly reflects its origins, although Giorgetto Giugiaro was hired to do the final styling.  At least the Marina’s ancient BMC engine was abandoned, in favor of Mitsubishi units in 1.2, 1.4, and 1.6 L size.

Hyundai’s exports began with the Pony, including Europe, and Canada from 1983 on. The Canadians took a particular shine to it, and the Pony was a big hit up north, selling over 50k units annually. When I was in Korea in 1980, traffic was a sea of these Ponys, including pickup versions. Every taxi ride reinforced the image of what it was: the developing world appliance-mobile; simple, rough riding, noisy, but rugged in that old-school RWD way.

Since it wouldn’t meet US standards, we were spared its pleasures on our home turf, although I doubt it would have compared all that poorly to the similar RWD Datsun 210s and Corollas of the times; maybe a bit less refined. After a ten year run, Hyundai was ready to take the plunge into the FWD world; a tricky transition that had tripped up more than one major manufacturer.

The Excel was fully Hyundai developed, although Giugiaro styled the body again. And with their new baby, Hyundai launched a massive assault on the US in 1986. Powered by a very attractive $4,995 ($10k adjusted) starting price, the Excel arrived at an auspicious time, given that the Voluntary Import Restrictions caused shortages of Japanese cars, rapidly rising prices, dealer markups, and waiting lists.

The infamous Yugo (I’m still hoping to find one for CC) had appeared just the year before, priced at a rock-bottom $3990. But there were serious doubts about the Yugo’s provenance and durability from the beginning, and they quickly proved to be all-too true. For a grand more, the Hyundai looked very appealing, even if the Made-In-Korea stamp back then had the the equivalent image of Made-In-China in more recent times.

Putting quality issues aside, the Excel was a steal compared to the barely warmed-over tiny ex-Fiat Yugo. The Excel looked handsome enough for the times, was fairly roomy, and its driving dynamics were adequately competitive with the lowest-end Japanese imports, while undercutting them by several thousand dollars.

The result was explosive, with Hyundai selling 126k Excels in the US that first year. That was the biggest first year sales performance of a newly introduced import brand ever. But it quickly unraveled.

The Excel was Hyundai’s GM X-Body (Citation, etc.), its builder having underestimated the challenges of a completely new FWD car with all-new engines and transaxles. Quality and reliability issues surfaced very quickly, and Hyundai was tainted with the same bad rep that killed the Yugo. I don’t know exactly what the early Excel’s greatest weaknesses were, but American import drivers had been spoiled by the Japanese cars’ well honed reliability by then, and were not about to embrace anything retrograde in that department.

And what were they like to drive? It was a highly unmemorable experience. I drove one once, fairly briefly, and my only now-dim impressions were of it being a reasonably functional appliance. It didn’t inspire in any regard, but neither did it engender loathing. The 1.5 L engine teamed with the three-speed automatic was feebler than average, certainly more so than a Sentra and Civics of the times I had experience with.

Hyundai limped along in the US, having made dubious history with its explosive introduction followed by its nearly immediate implosion. But time and continued steady progress in resolving the Excel’s issues healed some of the wounds. Whether Hyundai purposely waited some ten years before it got aggressive with its ten-year 100k mile warranty and a massive product expansion is unclear. But Hyundai is a text book case of how to redeem oneself with the demanding American consumer: hang around long enough and keep putting your face out there, and pretty soon all is forgiven. Image Rehab: an American specialty; available to Koreans too.

More new Curbside Classics here

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Quote Of The Day: Yugo By Chrysler Joke Here Edition http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/04/quote-of-the-day-yugo-by-chrysler-joke-here-edition/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/04/quote-of-the-day-yugo-by-chrysler-joke-here-edition/#comments Mon, 19 Apr 2010 22:07:40 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=353275 Chrysler is considering bringing a Fiat-engineered subcompact sedan from Serbia to North America under the Chrysler brand. The Chrysler brand product plan, unveiled in November, called for a Fiat-derived subcompact sedan to be imported in 2013. The vehicle would be built in Kragujevac, Serbia, where Serbian automaker Zastava Automobili once made the Yugo. Chrysler? Fiat-engineered […]

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Chrysler is considering bringing a Fiat-engineered subcompact sedan from Serbia to North America under the Chrysler brand. The Chrysler brand product plan, unveiled in November, called for a Fiat-derived subcompact sedan to be imported in 2013. The vehicle would be built in Kragujevac, Serbia, where Serbian automaker Zastava Automobili once made the Yugo.

Chrysler? Fiat-engineered subcompact? The Yugo plant? C’mon Automotive News [sub]… April Fools was weeks ago. Besides, this seems too cruelly ironic to even properly be a joke. Remember, these little gags have to come from a place of love…

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