Monday, December 14, 2009

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

"I'm reading about Yugos," I told a friend this weekend.

"Yugos! I loved them! They must have made a ton of money," he said.

Hardly, as is shown in Jason Vuic's The Yugo: The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History, which will be published in March 2010. It's about how the Yugo rode into the U.S. on the power of a strong viral campaign and rock bottom price tag, and crashed because the cars were less than reliable, being produced by a company always on the edge of insolvency.

In telling the story of the Yugo, Vuic also writes about small cars in America, and how they form the bottom of the car food chain -- an important bottom (says this Honda Civic driver).

It's an interesting story, but not as told here. Vuic is a history professor and Yugoslav expert, but adeptness in teaching history hasn't translated into the strong narrative that this book would need to make it more interesting non-fiction read and less wikipedia entry about the little car that couldn't. He tells the story but doesn't show it. Even the lively bits, like Yugo girls prancing around the car when it was introduced to dealers, fall flat.

Unless I missed it in the notes, Vuic didn't interview the star of the story, Malcolm Bricklin, an apparent egomaniac who cooked up Yugo America and has a sting of failed companies and bankruptcies in his wake (and is still trying to push cars). He's doing media interviews and even had a documentary made about himself.

I can understand why Bricklin might not want to be attached to a book about Yugos, but even if he said no, that should have been made clear. His refusal to be interview would say a lot about his character and thoughts about the car post mortem.

Did I learn about Yugos and the car industry? Yes. But the book read more like a history text than the non-fiction narrative story I think the Yugo deserves.

To check out some Yugos re-purposed in interesting ways, click here -- it's a show referenced in the book, and hysterical.

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2 comments:

PK said...

Just a note: Malcolm Bricklin was NEVER asked to do an interview for this book. I can assure you, he is happy to discuss Yugo at any time with anyone. He does not consider Yugo a failure. Thanks for qualifying the "egomaniac" comment with "apparent." He's got a healthy ego, but is definitely not a maniac. He is not still selling cars. I think you might really enjoy speaking with Malcolm, and I would love to extent the invitation.

Jen A. Miller said...

PK -whoever you are, I would be very interested to interview Malcolm. Drop me a line at jenmiller27 [at] gmail [dot] com. Thanks for the comment.