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The Ambassador is dead, long live the Amby

Murali Gopalan | Updated on March 13, 2018 Published on May 29, 2014

Hindustan Motors Ambassador car.   -  The Hindu

Hindustan Motors Ambassador car.   -  The Hindu

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AMBASSADOR4

Debt and the lack of demand for the iconic car led HM to end production

India’s oldest car brand held out gamely for nearly seven decades. But there was only so much the Ambassador could take and last week, it was formally conveyed that it had reached the end of the road.

Clearly, there was no way a business model involving daily production of five cars by over 1,500 workers could be sustained. The Uttarpara plant near Kolkata which was the Amby’s home since the late 1940s is not likely to be revived in a hurry unless the state government decides to provide a lifeline of sorts.

Old hand

For West Bengal, the Amby and its manufacturer, Hindustan Motors (HM), were its most celebrated residents for decades till Maruti Suzuki entered the scene in the ‘80s and changed the dynamics of the market. And after the economy opened its gates to international players a decade later, it was clear that things would become even more difficult for home-grown brands.

Premier Automobiles was the first to stop production of its Padmini by the turn of the century. The Amby, however, continued to get orders from state and central governments as well as the taxi segments especially in the south. The individual buying segment had, however, shifted to other models and it now remained to be seen how long the babus would continue being loyal to the Amby.

The irony is that even while the Indian market was rapidly losing interest in the car, BBC’s Top Gear television show declared less than a year ago that the Ambassador was the best taxi in the world. While it was a moving tribute to this never-say-die brand, it was clear that the end was near. Government officials were moving to more contemporary brands and cab operators preferred options like the Indigo, Etios and Logan (now rechristened Verito).

HM was also in dire straits because its alliance with Mitsubishi in Chennai was heading nowhere in terms of volumes. There was no indication of the Japanese ally picking up equity to revive the venture and all this while, operations in Bengal were gradually haemorrhaging.

There were talks of doing up the car and repositioning it in the market but it was crystal clear that the young buyers of today had zero emotional connect with the Amby. More importantly, it just looked out of place in a market buzzing with more swanky offerings.

End of an era

Kolkata, of course, will continue to be the best reminder of a legacy thanks to its yellow cab fleet, which reminds one of New York. Mumbai, likewise, still has many Padminis on the road even while a host of drivers have moved to other small car options from Maruti and Hyundai. They still believe that Premier should have kept operations going and refuse to listen to any argument to the contrary. Tell them about business viability and they will sneer in reply.

Kolkata’s cabbies, likewise, will have stories to tell about the Amby many years down the line. Like their counterparts in Mumbai, they will insist that HM should not have shut shop, never mind that there were no buyers for the car. The present generation will have little time for these stories but for a host of older people who got by in their loyal Ambassador for years, the memories will stay on.

Published on May 29, 2014
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