Serbian automaker Zastava Automobili announces end of Yugo production November 14th, 2008 - KRAGUJEVAC, Serbia -
At 9am on November 11th, 2008, Yugo #794,428 – a red Koral In – left the lines at Zastava Automobili's factory in Kragujevac.
The first Yugo, a hand-built prototype, emerged on October 2nd, 1978.
Zastava workers affixed a small piece of paper to its tailgate, labeled "ćao, nema više" ("goodbye, no more"). Thus did the famous budget car, once the pride of the former Yugoslavia, drive into history.
A few tears were shed; the machines ceased whirring, and the group that had gathered around the car slowly dispersed, somewhat stunned that no formal event had been announced.
While the last car headed to Zastava's museum, the men and women who built it were given the task of preparing the space for Fiat's purposes.
55 years ago, the late Prvoslav Raković founded Zastava Automobili from the WWII ruins of century-old Zastava, a cannon foundry and producer of some of the best rifles in the world.
Automobiles. Trucks. Buses. Architecture and construction. Horticulture. Zastava did it all. Well before World War II, 400 Chevrolet trucks rolled off Kragujevac lines, slated for the Yugoslav Army. Postwar production began in 1953, when Zastava built 162 Willys jeeps, before inextricably tying itself to Fiat. 1955 saw the first fruits of this agreement: the Zastava 600D ("fića"), a car for the people, and the Zastava AR-51, the truck which would drive Yugoslavia's postwar reconstruction.
With production beginning in 1955, Zastava ventured into front-wheel drive in 1971; Europe, in 1972; America, in 1985, and fuel injection, in 1988. As their world imploded in the '90s, Zastava's workers continued to come to work each morning. When in 1999 NATO used the factory for target practice, they dutifully cleaned up the damage and, seemingly without need for dollars or euros, managed again to turn out their budget cars.
In 1945, Toyota could make no more than fish paste. BMW built pots and pans. Volkswagen produced nothing. Yet bombs could not stop Zastava. Even without the foreign investment enjoyed by Toyota and Volkswagen, a Zastava Skala 101 rolled off the line just six months after the factory had been ripped apart.
For an encore, Zastava's engineers forged an alliance with PSA/ Peugeot-Citroen, and developed Europe's most affordable diesel car, the Florida TDC, a five-door hatchback which was praised by Britain's Autocar
magazine (in its February 20th, 2008 issue) in the last throes of the company's independence.
Zastava also builds the Oktopus Finiss
which, being rated for 150 km/h, is the world's fastest professional-driver training device.
On November 11th, 2008, the final Yugo followed the last Florida, #29,950.
The last Zastava 10 (Fiat Punto II.5) was built a few days earlier. When production restarts (expected to be by the end of the year), the car will be rebadged, Fiat Punto.
The last Skala 55 (#1,273,532) will be built on November 20th
, marking the last of more than 4.2 million Zastavas, of which 700,000 were exported (145,511 to the United States).
Zastava Automobili is currently working with the authorities in Congo, Africa, to transfer Skala 55/ Koral In/ Florida In production lines there.
Meanwhile, the Zastava 128 B-segment sedan is still assembled by El Nasco, in Egypt, where it is a favorite among taxi drivers.
The success of Zastava is important not only for its Kragujevac home (where metalworking, in 2007, accounted for 70% of industry), but for Serbia as a whole. Roughly 100,000 people across 56 towns are directly and indirectly employed by Zastava. Their fate remains unclear. For them and their families; for Kragujevac, and for Serbia and its economic recovery, it is hoped that Zastava's rollercoaster ride over the last quarter century is again trending upward.