End of the road for India's iconic Ambassador car

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 May, 2014, 5:08am
UPDATED : Monday, 26 May, 2014, 7:22pm


The maker of India's Ambassador car has suspended production, citing debt and lack of demand for the iconic vehicle that came to define the country's political class.

Hindustan Motors, India's oldest car maker, shut its factory on Saturday. It had been making the Ambassador - based on Britain's long-defunct Morris Oxford - at the Uttarpara plant in West Bengal since 1957.

"It is being done to ensure the company doesn't bleed more money and to enable us to draw plans for its revival," a senior official said yesterday.

The company informed the Bombay Stock Exchange in a letter on Saturday, citing "very low productivity, growing indiscipline, critical shortage of funds, lack of demand for its core product ... and large accumulation of liabilities".

The curve-shaped Ambassador, whose design has changed little in nearly 60 years, once ruled India's roads and for years was the only car driven by politicians and senior government officials, particularly in New Delhi.

The car's "power status" allowed Islamist militants to drive an Ambassador past security and stage a deadly attack on the parliament building in 2001, bringing nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan to the brink of war.

But the Ambassador, easily the most recognisable car on India's roads, has been muscled out over the years by the entry of more modern vehicles, particularly SUVs increasingly favoured by senior bureaucrats.

The car still remains popular with taxi drivers, some politicians and tourists looking for a bit of nostalgia on India trips.

The country's once-booming car market has suffered a slump in recent years, with the economy growing at under 5 per cent, deterring new customers. Ambassador sales had long been falling, with the factory recently churning out just five cars a day.

Sales dropped from 24,000 cars a year in the 1980s to less than 6,000 in the 2000s, according to the Times of India, which predicted the end of the road for the "grand old lady" or "Amby".

"Had HM [Hindustan Motors] continued to evolve the Amby over the past 60 years without changing the DNA, it would have been the Rolls Royce of India," it quoted India's leading car designer, Dilip Chhabria, as saying.