Page last updated at 11:32 GMT, Thursday, 20 November 2008

Yugo production grinds to a halt

By Helen Fawkes
BBC News, Belgrade

Yugo factory in central Serbia
The Yugo was the cheapest car in the world until recently
It's the end of the road for the Yugo.

Production of the car has officially ended after almost 30 years.

Just like the Lada and the Skoda, the Yugo was often ridiculed.

Apparently Yugos came complete with heated rear windows to keep your hands warm when the car needed a push - just one of many jokes inspired by its questionable quality.

At its factory in central Serbia, it is almost as if you are transported back to the former Yugoslavia.

The design of the car and the factory itself haven't changed much for decades. The last few cherry red models are on the production line.

The cars, which were named after Yugoslavia, are put together by hand as the factory couldn't afford an automated system.

"When the production started it was modern - it was one of the most popular cars. It was a good car and still is,'' says Mirko Ilic, who has been working at the factory since the launch of the Yugo.


Serbia's deputy PM on his Yugo

Suddenly everything grinds to a halt.

There is a problem with the assembly line, so the Yugo workers take a long tea break - something that has become a lot more common in recent years.

Outside there were once rows and rows of shiny models straight from the factory. Now there are only 150 new Yugos left for sale.

It was the cheapest car in the world until recently, costing around 4,000 euros (3,370). In the end the Yugo just couldn't compete with more modern cars.

Fond farewell

Motoring expert Mirko Alvirovic has test-driven all the Yugo models for his TV show.

''As a professional, I had to assess the car. I was mostly criticising it because I hoped that things would improve,'' he says.

Workers at a Yugo factory in central Serbia
The cars - named after Yugoslavia - are put together by hand

''The Yugo was not a car which would amaze the driver. But it did answer the needs of an average driver in this market and that's why Yugo has its place in this country and that is why many will be sorry to see it go.''

When it was launched in 1980, the Yugo was the pride of the former socialist state and it was exported to more than 70 countries.

Critics said it barely qualified as a car but around 70,000 were sold in the UK and more than double that in the US.

The Yugo factory was bombed during the 1990s and never really recovered from Serbia's years of international isolation.

''Considering all the difficult periods this country has been through it was not easy to get investment into the auto industry," says Mr Alvirovic, who presents the motoring show Sat on Serbian TV.

''We have great resources, good workers and excellent managers - the people who could make something new - but unfortunately nothing can be done without money,'' he says.

Earlier this year, the Serbian government and Fiat signed a deal. The Italian motoring manufacturer will invest 700m euros in the car plant.

In 2010 it is hoped it will produce 200,000 cars a year.


For young drivers the Yugo can be an object of pride

For young Serbs, though, the Yugo is popular because it is cheap.

Most weekends, fans of the car meet up on the edge of the capital. Serbs who have "pimped" [customised] their Yugos come to show off.

There are cars with spoilers and television screens. In a shiny white Yugo the entire boot is full of speakers for the sound system.

It is estimated one in three people in Serbia have owned a Yugo - including the Deputy Prime Minister Bozidar Djelic.

''For Serbia it is part of the folklore. Everybody knows that it isn't the most technologically advanced car, but it reminds people of the good times of the ex-Yugoslavia,'' says Mr Djelic, who bought his Yugo in 2001.

''Now our responsibility as the government is to show not only that we can produce better times but also better cars.''

There will be no more new Yugos but the troubled international motor industry still needs cheap cars.

The Yugo factory is to be transformed and in future it will be making a brand new model for Fiat, something that has already been nicknamed here as the "anti-credit crisis car".

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