23 November 2002
Yugo your way
In 1985, Malcolm Bricklin decided that what the US market needed was a really cheap car, and the next year he began selling a couple of Fiat 128-based cars built by Zastava Motor Works in the Serbian sector of Yugoslavia. The Yugos sold well at first; in fact, they sold so well that the Serbs squeezed Bricklin out and took over US distribution themselves, which proved to be a serious mistake.
The bigger mistake, though, was selling a car based on the Fiat 128, a model so ancient even Fiat gave up on it after 1978. And the usual Fix-It-Again-Tony woes that dogged the 128 were just as evident in the Yugos. Production ended in the early 90s, at least partially because the Zastava plant was damaged in the Balkan war.
It is now 2002, and Malcolm Bricklin has decided that what the US market needs is a really cheap car. Next year he plans to sell a line of four vehicles not even slightly based on Fiats, built by Zastava Motor Works, using engines from Peugeot. No attempt will be made to claim any connection with the ill-fated Yugos of yore; Zastava's cars will bear its own badge.
Well, okay, no one will likely confuse any of these with those driving machines closer to the ultimate. The real question is whether American consumers, who generally prefer to buy loaded luxoboats, will consider something priced below even South Korean levels. If Bricklin can find 60,000 buyers a year, he'll make a fortune. If he can't well, as Peter Noone once said, "Second verse, same as the first."