Vuic (Modern European History/Bridgewater Coll.) debuts with the story of a cheap imported car whose name still provokes outbursts of laughter.
The Yugo (1985–’92), a small $3,990 import that was poorly built and prone to breakdowns, became an endless source of jokes for late-night comedians. In 2000, Car Talk listeners voted it “the Worst Car of the Millennium.” Vuic shares the best jokes (“Q: What do you call the passengers in a Yugo? A: Shock absorbers”) as he recounts the Yugo’s journey from a poorly run communist auto plant in Kragujevac, Serbia, to U.S. showrooms, where it actually became the fastest-selling first-year European import in U.S. history. The Yugo was imported by American entrepreneur Malcolm Bricklin, who had successfully introduced Subaru of America two decades earlier, in the belief that there was a niche market for inexpensive minicars. Bricklin ignored warnings about the Yugo’s poor quality, requested more than design changes and in 1985 unveiled the car with hoopla at New York’s Tavern on the Green restaurant. A year later, Consumer Reports advised readers they were better off buying a good used car. Calling the Yugo “the greatest bad-car pop icon of all time,” the author traces Bricklin’s struggle with bad press, financial problems and a Congressman’s charge that the Yugo was built with slave labor. Some 150,000 cars were sold in seven years. Vuic speculates that Americans came to hate the bargain-priced vehicle because it failed to deliver status. He also clears up the mystery of the Michigan woman who drove her Yugo off the Mackinac Bridge in 1989. The wind did not blow her car off the bridge, he writes; low guardrails were to blame. The author leaves few facts about the Yugo’s manufacture and sale uncovered. Many readers will wonder whether they need so much information about what the Toronto Star called “a hopelessly degenerate hunk of trash.”
Overly detailed, but a hoot for car enthusiasts and a case study for business schools.