Yugo’s Manufacturer Fights Back With Modern Diesel Technology
The Belgrade Motor Show, which opens this Thursday, may not be among the classic dates of the motoring year but it is a mighty important venue for Zastava, the national car maker of Serbia.
Almost forgotten nowadays, Zastava built – and still builds – the tiny Yugo hatchback, of which some 145,000 were sold in the USA from 1985 to 1991. The car is still Serbia’s bestseller, where it is now known as the Zastava Koral.
At the Belgrade Show all eyes will be on a new diesel version of arguably Zastava’s largest model, the Florida. This is a five-door hatchback based on the platform of the unlamented Fiat Tipo (Car of the Year way back in 1989) and styled by none other than Giorgetto Giugiaro of Ital Design (though possibly not on one of his better days).
The Florida, also formerly known as the Sana and the Miami in other markets, had a very short international career from 1989 to 1991 which was abruptly terminated by the beginning of the disintegration of Yugoslavia. This made Zastava exports to the West almost impossible and culminated in NATO warplanes bombing the company’s plant in 1999 during the Kosovo campaign.
Today the Zastava Florida is one of the very cheapest cars in its class (it is Ford Focus-sized) at a starting price of 6000 Euros (about $9,200 at the current very poor exchange rate) in its petrol version. The new 1.4-litre TDC common rail diesel costs a rather more substantial 8,500 Euros ($13,000).
The diesel power unit owes nothing to the company’s earlier technology, and is in fact a bang-up-to-date Ford Europe/Peugeot unit, as fitted to the European Ford Fiesta TDCi.
According to the Serbs, in addition to being environmentally friendly and compliant with Europe’s latest emissions standards, the Florida TDC is surprisingly refined with a lack of the vibration which often plague diesels. Zastava engineers have redesigned the motor mounts, and have strengthened the chassis, to ensure that noise, vibration and harshness are par with the Florida’s petrol-engined sister.
Zastava is beginning to look at exports again and it believes the Florida TDC is a trump card to fight off the challenge from the Romanian-built Dacia Logan, a low-priced modern-looking saloon with Renault technology. Another Eastern European rival is Russia’s Lada Kalina.
The Florida’s basic design may be 20 years old but it is still one of the younger members of Zastava’s range, which includes the Skala 55 (a hatchback version of the Fiat 128, born 1969) and the infamous Yugo/Koral (born 1982 and heavily based on the earlier Fiat 127). The company’s most modern product is the Zastava 10, a licence-built version of the previous-generation Fiat Punto.
Serbia has had a very hard time economically and politically in recent times, the latest setback being the recognition of Kosovo’s independence by some members of the international community, despite fierce opposition from across the political spectrum in Belgrade.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of this incredibly complex issue, in these circumstances it would be churlish to be too hard on the company, so instead let’s celebrate the fact that Zastava still exists at all. As the company slowly emerges from the shadows, helped by assistance from Fiat and Peugeot, it may yet rejoin the European mainstream.
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