Six months after its American introduction in 1985, the Yugo was a punch line; within a year, it was a staple of late-night comedy. By 2000, NPR's Car Talk declared it "the worst car of the millennium." And for most Americans that's where the story begins and ends. Hardly. The short, unhappy life of the car, the men who built it, the men who imported it, and the decade that embraced and discarded it is rollicking and astounding, and one of the greatest untold business-cum-morality tales of the 1980s. Mix one rabid entrepreneur, several thousand "good" communists, a willing U.S. State Department, the shortsighted Detroit auto industry, and improvident bankers, shake vigorously, and you've got The Yugo: The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History.
Brilliantly re-creating the amazing confluence of events that produced the Yugo, Yugoslav expert Jason Vuic uproariously tells the story of the car that became an international joke: The American CEO who happens upon a Yugo right when his company needs to find a new import or go under. A State Department eager to aid Yugoslavia's nonaligned communist government. Zastava Automobiles, which overhauls its factory to produce an American-ready Yugo in six months. And a hole left by Detroit in the cheap subcompact market that creates a race to the bottom that leaves the Yugo . . . at the bottom.
Nearly two decades after the company went bankrupt in America, the Yugo is still part of our cultural vernacular, for all the wrong reasons. Vuic, an assistant professor at Bridgewater College, Va., delves into our fascination with the brief but turbulent life of a Yugoslavian car that has now turned into a punch line. Billed as an economic, reliable mode of transportation, the Yugo was in fact badly made, with substandard workers abroad who had a propensity to drink on the job. Yet due to its advertised price tag of under $4,000, it rode a short wave of popularity when it debuted in the U.S. in 1985, as customers snapped up the automobiles sight unseen. The Yugo was all the rage, until people began driving it: one review described how nearly everything in the new car was defective. The car's flaws were many, but Vuic also shows how much of its demise was due to the company's owner, Malcolm Brinklin, who failed in most of his automotive ventures, not because of lack of entrepreneurial vision but because of financial irresponsibility. In the end, this is a fun read about a heap of junk that should make anyone feel better about having to take their car to a repair shop.
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Incredibly complete Yugo history
For those of us who lived through the introduction and ultimate failure of the Yugo, this book tells the backstory in fascinating detail. From political meddling, wars, outright plundering, and unthinkably poor construction facilities (and workers), the Yugo was doomed from the start. Enjoy this read. There are tons of statistics, but don't get stuck on them. The author needs to document his analysis, and did a supreme job.