Books: The Yugo: The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History

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Jason Vuic, a professor of modern European history, could easily have written a straightforward takedown of the most maligned automobile since the Ford Pinto. Instead, he uses the Yugo as a vehicle for an insightful and witty look at car culture, a half-century of Balkan history, and the last decade of the Cold War.

Though it sold in the United States for only six years, the Yugo captured Americans’ collective imagination—and not in a good way. Its countless defects ranged from the comic (driver’s seats that dropped unexpectedly from their hinges) to the deadly (one was blown off a Michigan bridge). Happily, Vuic has an encyclopedic knowledge of Yugo jokes (Q: What’s included in every Yugo owner’s manual? A: A bus schedule).

Humor aside, Vuic argues that anxiety about communism and its consumer products helped ensure the Yugo’s commercial failure. It was only the third car made behind the Iron Curtain to be imported into the States; remember the Czech Skoda or the Russian Moskvich? But what ultimately sank it was its marketers’ miscalculation of how much Americans would give up for a bargain. The Me Decade demanded flash, and the Yugo was a “humble, almost fundamentalist product” with no frills to spare. Though it only captured less than half a percent of the American market, Yugo remains a household name—a Slavic synonym for “flop.”

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And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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