Trivia: Will The Fiat 500L Be First Serbian-Built Car Sold In The U.S.?

February 25, 2012

The 2012 Fiat 500 has been on sale in the U.S. for almost a year, as a three-door hatchback, a 500C cabrio with a roll-back cloth roof, and the just-launched 500 Abarth performance model.

A new, larger 2013 Fiat 500L all-wheel drive crossover will be unveiled in Geneva next month to expand the range. European sales begin later this year, and U.S. sales kick off early next year.

Today's Fiat 500 models are all built in Mexico for the North American market, but the larger 500L crossover will be built in Serbia and exported to the States.

So will it be the first Serbian-built car ever sold in the U.S.?

That depends.

Remember the Yugo?

It was the tiny hatchback imported to the U.S. between 1985 and 1991. Adapted from a licensed Fiat design of the 1970s, it quickly became joke fodder and is now often found on lists of the worst cars ever.

The Yugo was built in the same plant in Kragujevac that will build the Fiat 500L. That plant was bombed by NATO in 1999 during the Serbian conflict.

Yugo Power Tour

Yugo Power Tour

The remains of the company that built it, Zastava Automobili, collapsed in bankruptcy and were purchased in April 2008 by Fiat.

The now-rebuilt Kragujevac assembly plant is a far cheaper place to build small cars than any of Fiat's plants in Italy, all of which operate at a loss.

Fiat will export the 500L and other cars through a port in the adjacent country of Montenegro.

But, here's the kicker.

When the Yugo was built in Kragujevac, that city was part of a country called Yugoslavia that broke into six countries--Bosnia and Herezgovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia--in the aftermath of the Balkan conflicts of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

So, in fact, the 2013 Fiat 500L will be the first Serbian-built car to be sold in the United States, because Serbia didn't exist when the Yugo was sold here.

Here endeth today's automotive history lesson.

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