Yugo 45. The worst car in history?

Putting Lipstick On A pig

By mid-1984 Yugo America Inc was up and running with Bricklin as chairman and Tony Ciminera as the head of engineering and quality control. Up to this date Ciminera hadn't even set eyes on a Yugo; and when a test consignment of eight cars arrived and he checked them out he nearly had a fit.

The quality was absolutely appalling. Bolts holding structural members together would fall out, welds would snap. The standard of finish of the car was unbelievably bad. He was all for pulling out of the project completely but Bricklin was adamant that this was just a quality issue that could be put right.

Ciminera was given the job of preparing a list of improvements that would have to be made; these were eventually faxed over to Zastava and it was probably the longest fax ever sent in the history of mankind. In the meanwhile Bricklin made promises to buy unbelievable numbers of cars; numbers which he simply didn't have enough money to finance; but then the salesman in him went into a media blitz. It was incredibly successful.

He estimated that he could sell a Yugo for US$4000 which would make it the cheapest real car on the American market. The sales estimates that he was talking about ballooned from the incredible to the stratospheric and in the meanwhile dealers were signing up and paying huge deposits upfront on cars which hadn't even been designed yet! Ciminera was dispatched to Zastava's plant to oversee the quality improvements and he found a labour situation that really belonged in the 19th century.

By this time American car manufacture was highly automated. Factory floors were often clean enough to eat a meal off. Staff were highly trained and generally specialised in a small number of tasks only.

The communist system was different however. At the Zastava factory it was considered to be more important to provide work for people than to get them working efficiently. Overmanning and lack of specialisation lead to mistakes and decades of concentration on production numbers rather than quality meant a slapdash attitude amongst the workers, which was not improved by the amount of alcohol that was consumed during an average working day!

Changes had to be made but the Zastava management and workers were confident that they could up their game with the help of American advisers. What didn't help, though, was that Bricklin was in a real rush to get the car to the American market. His company was still undercapitalised and he needed to generate sales quickly.

More than 400 improvements had to be made, ranging from minor paint modifications to a completely new engine raising the capacity from 903 cc to 1116 cc; new being a somewhat vague term since the design of the engine was still nearly 30 years old.

Finally the car passed all the USA regulatory tests and was ready to go into production. Bricklin, ever the savvy salesman, went into sales overdrive and by the end of 1985 there was already a queue of potential buyers clamouring to buy this wonderful new car at a ridiculously low price, together with another queue of dealers ready to put their cheques down in exchange for a right to sell them. None of them however had ever seen a Yugo, let alone driven one.

In the meanwhile there were the first stirrings of resentment from other car manufacturers and politicians, who were muttering about the possibility of subsidised cars coming from a communist state and being built by slave labour. There was a shade of truth in these allegations; although the workers were certainly not slaves (true they were poorly paid compared to Americans) the Zastava factory had been so inefficient that operating without a government subsidy would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible.

Import tariffs, which could have made the car unviable were a distinct possibility; however they never happened thanks, possibly, to certain senior American politicians who were eager to help Yugoslavia. General Tito had left the Soviet bloc and it was felt in high places that Yugoslavia could be a good ally of the United States.

Bricklin's run of luck continued. By mid-1985 the first 500 Yugos had arrived in America sparking a buying frenzy. Queues formed outside dealerships. In a single day over 1000 cars were sold to buyers who were prepared to wait for them to arrive. Every single car that Zastava were able to send him was sold. However, competitors were not content to just stand idly by. Plus the quality of the car, despite the improvements, was still very poor. Despite the optimism of Bricklin and his management staff the storm clouds were gathering.

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Meet The Yugo     |     Enter Michael Bricklin     |     The Bricklin SV1 Fiasco     |     Bricklin Faces Bankrupcy Again     |     The First Yugo In America     |     How Bricklin Promised Zastava The Moon     |     Lipstick Is Put On The Yugo Pig     |     America Decides The Yugo Is Awful     |     The Proton Saga     |     The End Of The Yugo