The Trabant, manufactured in East Germany prior to 1990, had the reputation as being the loudest, least efficient and most polluting vehicle ever produced. Powered by a two-stroke pollution generator that maxed out at an ear-splitting 27 hp, the Trabant was a hollow lie of a car constructed of worthless agricultural by-products. It was poorly designed and even more poorly assembled. There were no amenities on this car, which really would have been enhanced with the addition of interior lights and comfortable seats. It also lacked other passenger comforts such as ventilation, heat, air conditioning and a defroster. The handling and suspension were poor. People who drove the car were convinced that it didn’t have shock absorbers.
When refueling, the Trabant required lifting the hood, removing the tank, filling the tank with gasoline (only 6.5 gallons), then adding two-stroke oil and shaking it back and forth to mix. The gas tank then needed to be placed back into the car, hooking up the gas lines to the tank. This never changed despite heavy criticism and complaints. With a range of 80 miles, the vehicle needed frequent stops for refueling. Even worse; the car did not have a gas gauge, but featured a dip stick instead. With a small range, the driver needed to stop the vehicle quite often to open the hood to check the dip stick.
One British man bought the Trabant in 1992 as a novelty. Shortly after owning it he had noticed holes appearing on the body panels. He kept the car in a barn out of rain or snow, but as soon as one hole was patched another hole appeared. He found out that the body panels were made from ‘Duraplast’ corn stalk or cotton and glue; a common target for mice. Steel panels would have been cheaper and more durable, but agricultural by-products were used as a kick-back to farmers.
The Trabant featured a 500 cc, 2 cycle engine that only produced 27 hp, 0-60 was 31 seconds, if it reached 60 mph. These performance numbers were produced by the factory, but never duplicated by other sources. Unless the car was new and operating well, it couldn’t hit 60 mph. The production workers joked that the Trabant could reach 60 mph only while traveling west with a stiff east wind out of Moscow.
The refueling station owners charged exorbitant prices for full-service fueling. Many older citizens, women or handicapped people were forced to use the full service option, since the 65 lb tank was too heavy to lift. The station owners were well connected politically; maintaining the status quo. However, in the mid 1980’s, some gas stations began to provide blended fuels for easy re-fueling.
The average life expectancy of the car was 30,000 miles; at which point the engine would have been rebuilt; twice. Again, thanks to the political influence of station owners and mechanics, improvements in engine durability were never attempted.
The common theme regarding the car’s design, maintenance and support is that all decisions were based on political factors. The end-user was never considered. The prevailing thought was that no matter what the government produced, there would always be a market for it.
It was in production without any significant change for nearly 30 years, producing over 3 million cars. The Trabant's production method, which was extremely labor-intensive, remained unchanged. Government had no interest in improving efficiency or optimizing production methods, since it was a ‘make-work’ program. The Trabant program was not profitable and needed an infusion of cash from the government to sustain production, despite the fact that Trabant was a government monopoly. Very few were exported; those few went to Poland and the Ukraine. But there was a 10 year waiting list for the Trabant; it was the Trabant or nothing.
When the wall fell in Germany, production stopped shortly afterwards. As quoted by a production worker, “No one in their right mind would want to buy a Trabant, if there is an option.”
The Trabant has received ‘Worst in show’ ratings for the past 20 years in any car show that it entered.
The Trabant was essentially designed and produced by politicians who were greatly influenced by lobbying groups. One attempt was made to improve the durability of the vehicle. But just the discussion of the possible changes had the mechanics unions marching in the streets, claiming that politicians were ‘designing away their jobs.’ The individuals leading the charge to improve the car quickly dropped the idea and the car returned to the status quo.
Without a monopoly, this car would not have thrived, much less survived. Since the public’s disdain for the car was so prevalent, a black market was created for better engines, automotive air conditioning, steel door panels and car accessories. The government was forced to spend a great deal of resources policing back yard mechanics and engineers seeking to improve and sell cars.
Primarily, the Trabant is a tribute to the inefficiency, ineffectiveness and inability of government to provide any goods or services.