linked in facebook twitter rss

  • Interbrand
  • Brandchannel

your chance!
your chance!


can yugo still go?
by Robin D. Rusch
March 19, 2001

Between the bizarre art projects and the jokes, the Yugo brand has inspired great moments of creativity and nostalgia. But there’s more to a brand’s growth and survival than that. With the advent of a new Yugoslavian president and all hopes pinned on a democracy, how will the Yugo survive without subsidies and a captive consumer market?

Luckily an underdog status always results in fierce loyalty, and it’s no different with the Yugo. Yugo owners have found a community online where they can trade and discuss the merits, repairs, and sob stories inspired by their heartaches.

Even the president of Yugoslavia, Vojislav Kostunica, drives a Yugo; his determination to live


the simple life of an ordinary Slav includes tooling about in a 10-year-old white Yugo.

In the US, a great art project was inspired by the Yugo, when a professor at the School of Visual Arts assigned his students the Yugo as a medium. The object was to turn the little car into something useful, with results as varied and inventive as a Toaster, a Port-o-Potty, an accordion, a foosball table, and a shower.

So where did it all begin? The name, of course, is a nod to the country, but what a happy coincidence that in English it should be so apt at conveying movement as well. Still this served to work against the product since oftentimes “you no go” as a result of the automotive folly.

But automotive wizardry is a luxury the average Yugo owner cannot afford. The overwhelming reason to buy a Yugo is, of course, price. In Yugoslavia, it is cheap to buy, cheap to maintain, and one can walk into any garage and buy spare parts.

Unfortunately the Yugo is a commodity and like all other commodities, it needs a strong brand to distinguish itself from competition. At best people feel a loyalty rooted in sympathy and at worst the car is merely a necessary evil for mobility. Cheap and sweet are not the hallmarks of a great selling brand, and these qualities can be particularly risky when dealing with low-margin products such as automobiles.

The story of the Yugo begins in 1954, when the first passenger cars rolled off the production line at the Zastava factory in Kragujevac, Yugoslavia. The site was originally a factory for casting cannons and some say the plant never stopped producing weapons even when cars, trucks and tools became the main products to emerge from the factory.

Throughout the years, Yugo did a brisk business locally, in neighboring Italy, and worldwide as a second car for families and a primary car for students and lower income drivers. It was cheap, it was unreliable, but it was loved with a sort of resigned acceptance by owners around the world – and some of the older, rarer models such as the Zastava 750 and the Multipla are actually lovely from a design point of view.

Kept alive by subsidies and cheap labor, the little manufacturer eventually met a huge challenge in the nineties as Yugoslavia fell into a civil war lasting throughout the decade. Then on April 9, 1999, the Zastava factory was the target of a tremendous bombing campaign by NATO. Missiles showered down and totally demolished the assembly line for Yugos. Production slipped from 180,000 off the belt in 1989 to just 13,000 a decade later.

The eventual dissolution of the country, a decade of crippling economic sanctions, and a bombed out plant took their toll on the automaker. But despite all this Yugo is still churning out its plucky little cars. And there is possibly still a local market for a few years to come. The average monthly salary in Yugoslavia is down from US$100 in 1999 to just US$40 in 2001, so with Yugos costing around US$3000 to buy, it’s still the only viable option for most peripatetic locals.

But it can’t last. Now that Yugoslavia is enjoying a new dawn with the end of the wars and the lifting of sanctions, it also has to contend with the open market that forces other automakers around the world to pour billions of dollars into establishing and growing a brand. Competition can be a deadly component in the race to get Yugo back up to speed with manufacturing. Following the democratization of Czechoslovakia, Skoda managed to pull itself up and rise to fill the student and second car niche but can Yugo achieve the same feat?

To put the go back in Yugo, there would need to be a complete overhaul of the brand. The first hurdle would be to overcome issues involving quality control. The name association is probably too great to ever extend the line into luxury cars but a basic car with a quirky look could captivate a younger generation. The new era in Yugoslavia could provide a springboard for reintroducing the car, and maybe to announce the new change, Yugo could dust off its once-perky but sadly outdated Y logo for a modern look.

It may sound like a long shot but remember, when you have lemons, make lemonade.


Robin D. Rusch lives and works in New York City.

 commenting closed Add Social Bookmark bookmark  print
 suggest topic  recommend ( 9 )  email

  brandchannel profile archive   2011  |  2010  |  2009  |  2008  |  2007  |  2006  |  2005  |  2004  |  2003  |  2002  | 2001  | 
Dec 31, 2001 Diesel - fueled by fashion -- Abram D. Sauer
  Diesel establishes itself by poking fun at the establishment. How long before the irony wears through?
Dec 17, 2001 Red Cross - relief needed -- Joseph M. Walters
  The American Red Cross went from hero to zero in a matter of days. Can the brand rebuild and win back the hearts and wallets it’s lost?
Dec 10, 2001 FDNY - hot -- Jonathan Schneider
  Suddenly, the hottest brand to come out of the US is a non-profit organization. We tip our hats to the FDNY.
Dec 3, 2001 NBC - knows TV -- Al Berrios
  As NBC demonstrates, television channels don’t need to be cross media giants to successfully compete for advertisers.
Nov 26, 2001 Legend - linking thoughts -- Kim Barnet
  Legend is living up to its name by studying Dell and HP. But can the Chinese PC maker continue to conquer the market alone?
Nov 19, 2001 Red Bull - all the rage -- Abram D. Sauer
  Red Bull’s attempt at a pious brand image goes out to pasture the minute we power up the turntable.
Nov 12, 2001 Harry Potter - literary crack -- Abram D. Sauer
  We look back on the legacy that brought a children’s book to this staggering height of awareness.
Nov 5, 2001 Shanghai Tang - firmly tongue in chic -- Abram D. Sauer
  Hong Kong retailer Shanghai Tang is putting dignity into the phrase “Made in China.”
Oct 29, 2001 YMCA - spells community -- John Karolefski
  The old-line non-profit brand YMCA has survived the Village People and a name that, spelled out, is largely meaningless to its 18M members.
Oct 22, 2001 MTN - Africa gets connected -- Nana Eyeson
  Africa’s Mobile Telephone Networks is expanding with a critically essential product in an otherwise fractured communications landscape.
Oct 15, 2001 SakéOne Corp. - drunk on potential -- Abram D. Sauer
  Momokawa’s renegade sub-brand SakéOne is stocking the bar in anticipation of a mad rush for saké in the US.
Oct 8, 2001 Patagonia - granola gucci -- Matt Seigel
  Patagonia comes down from the mountains and is embraced by the suburban outdoorsman.
Oct 1, 2001 Tupperware - keepin' it fresh -- Stephanie Margolin
  Tupperware changes shape from Bangalore to Birmingham to stay fresh in the 21st century.
Sep 24, 2001 U-Haul - moving on -- Jonathan Schneider
  U-Haul needs to work extra hard to associate its brand with ease and convenience in the backbreaking business of self-moving.
Sep 17, 2001 BBC - a global beacon -- Stephanie Margolin
  As many of us watch and listen to events unfolding in the US, we turn once again to the BBC for its top quality news and analysis.
Sep 10, 2001 Blue Note - kind of blue -- Jonathan Schneider
  We examine the 62-year run of the Blue Note label from Ornette Coleman and Miles Davis to Us3, Soulive, and now, Starbucks.
Sep 3, 2001 Patek Philippe - timeless -- Robin D. Rusch
  The last independent watchmaker in Geneva, Patek Philippe is, nevertheless, still ticking.
Aug 27, 2001 Underoos - to the rescue -- Sarah McNeill
  We go under cover to look at Underoos, the underwear that's fun to wear.
Aug 20, 2001 Pirelli - far from tired -- Robin D. Rusch
  The elongated P in Pirelli covers everything from cable systems to tires, clothing to naked women.
Aug 13, 2001 Google - the infinite quest -- Robin D. Rusch
  A successful dot-com brand? Google is the fun service involved in serious work.
Aug 6, 2001 Bicycle - big deal -- Sarah McNeill
  Bicycle playing cards knows when to hold ‘em and knows when to play. We have a look at the 116-year history of this small but sturdy brand.
Jul 30, 2001 Zespri - a kiwi's kiwi -- Robin D. Rusch
  Kiwi grower Zespri International exports its brand in a traditionally commoditized industry.
Jul 23, 2001 Aston Martin - shaken, not stirred -- Robin D. Rusch
  Aston Martin bled money for over 80 years before Ford Motor Company took control and achieved a U-turn on the P&L sheet.
Jul 16, 2001 Zima - clearly an enigma -- Robin D. Rusch
  How does Zima survive despite low sales and media ridicule?
Jul 9, 2001 Swiss Army Knife - an army of two -- Robin D. Rusch
  This week’s brand profile looks at the dueling brands (Swiss style) of Victorinox and Wenger.
Jul 2, 2001 AstroTurf - the grass is always greener -- Robin D. Rusch
  AstroTurf delivered summer year round for 35 years.
Jun 25, 2001 Dr. Bronner's - magic in a bottle -- Sarah McNeill
  What makes Dr. Bronner’s soaps so “magical”?
Jun 18, 2001 Zamboni - smooth operator -- Robin D. Rusch
  The funny machine between periods at an ice-hockey game? A Zamboni, of course, the best known resurfacer in the ice business.
Jun 11, 2001 Havoline - striking oil -- Robin D. Rusch
  This week’s brand profile concentrates on a striking new packaging initiative for Havoline automotive products.
Jun 4, 2001 Durex - erecting a global brand -- Robin D. Rusch
  How has Durex kept it up all these years?
May 28, 2001 Lonely Planet - lost without it -- Robin D. Rusch
  The Lonely Planet muscles for space on the crowded bookshelf of the travel guide section.
May 21, 2001 ONDEO - makes a splash -- Robin D. Rusch
  Like a glass of water in a parched landscape, the Ondeo brand glistens in the utilities industry.
May 14, 2001 FUBU - for us by us -- Nana Eyeson
  FUBU, the urban gear with edge, expands its marketbase and its marketplace in a short but sweet decade of existence.
May 7, 2001 Guinness World Records - stupid human tricks -- Robin D. Rusch
  Is the Guinness Book of World Records a menace to society?
Apr 30, 2001 Muji - commonly unique -- Robin D. Rusch
  From Japan comes the Zen-like Muji, a brand despite itself.
Apr 23, 2001 Alessi - putting the fun in function -- Robin D. Rusch
  Without leaving the home, Alessi has crossed continents and oceans to become an inspiring international brand.
Apr 16, 2001 Tiger Balm - fit for an emperor -- Robin D. Rusch
  Tiger Balm gently lures consumers into its soothing lair with a winning recipe for brand success.
Apr 9, 2001 Greenpeace - making waves -- Robin D. Rusch
  Greenpeace battles its own success as the multinational organization reaches middle age. Has it outgrown its brand?
Apr 2, 2001 Airstream - the land yacht -- Sarah McNeill
  The Airstream brand has survived wars, recessions, and different owners and it’s still motoring on.
Mar 26, 2001 Sanrio - the cat's meow -- Robin D. Rusch
  Like a fresh bowl of tuna, Sanrio delights young and old alike, courtesy of our feline friends Hello Kitty and Dear Daniel.
Mar 12, 2001 Indian - muffled but not silenced -- Robin D. Rusch
  Indian Motorcycle was up on blocks for nearly a half century before getting a jumpstart back into production.
Mar 5, 2001 Kangol - hip hoppin' -- Sarah McNeill
  Hang on to your hat, milliner Kangol is profiled.
Feb 26, 2001 LEGO - brand building -- Robin D. Rusch
  Find out how the little brick maker, Lego, constructed a bridge to the 21st century.
Feb 19, 2001 Olay - forever young -- Robin D. Rusch
  Olay may be over 60 years old but its continual makeovers keep it young, vibrant and wrinkle-free.
Feb 12, 2001 Plymouth Gin - bottoms up -- Robin D. Rusch
  Plymouth's two-century-old tradition spells bottoms up for everyone.
Feb 5, 2001 Ribena - the posh squash -- Caroline Wilson
  The name that will forever be known as good and good for you.