Friday, 5 June 2020

The Lady Ceases To Rule The Corridors Of Power

Updated: June 21, 2014 1:15 pm

The glory car, once the dream of every Indian, the dignity of politicians and the pride of the country, which witnessed all important events of Indian political history, and which carried the decision-makers in all royalty and loyalty, will never be seen among us.n Yes, this description is for the “Grand old lady” or “Amby”, popularly known as Ambassador Car. It was love of the people that it won so many anecdotes and names resurfacing around it. It has been a real ambassador of Indian political system, which reflected its power.

Hindustan Motors, the producer of the car and the oldest car-maker of the country, said in a statement on May 25, 2014, that it had suspended work at its Uttarpara plant in Hooghly district of West Bengal, until further notice. With this announcement, the lady ceases to rule the corridor of power.

The Ambassador car was the first indigenous car to be made in India. Hindustan Motors, which had been making the Ambassador car—based on Britain’s long-defunct Morris Oxford—since 1957, finally had to suspend its production because of weak demand, very low productivity, growing indiscipline, large liabilities and lack of funds. The car, affectionately called Amby, was modelled on the lines of Britain’s Morris Oxford III, and was first made by the Morris Motors Limited at Cowley, Oxford, the United Kingdom from 1956 to 1959. However, in 1957, Morris Oxford became defunct and shifted all the tooling of Morris Oxford III to India, which was renamed as Ambassador. The series production of it started in 1958.

In spite of much fallout, the Ambassador was chosen as the world’s best taxi on July 20, 2014, at the Beaulieu’s World of Top Gear Motorsport Show (BBC’s popular Top Gear television show). The iconic car—Ambassador, whose design had changed little in nearly 60 years—for years had been the only car driven by politicians and senior government officials, particularly in New Delhi and which came to define the country’s political class and most easily the most recognisable car on India’s roads. But it was muscled out over the years by the entry of more modern vehicles, particularly SUVs which are increasingly favoured by senior bureaucrats.

After Pranav Mukherjee became the President of the country in the year 2013, on one of his state visit in Bihar, he wished to be travelled by the Ambassador, which defined that the car still carried that aura among the politicians and bureaucrat of time. A Hindustan Motors official, while speaking to Uday India, said that Ambassador Sales have long been falling, with the factory recently churning out just five cars a day. Sales have dropped from 24,000 cars a year in the 1980s to less than 6,000 in the 2000s.” This itself indicates the end of the road for the “grand old lady” or “Amby”. Against this backdrop, one really cannot justify close to 3000 workers producing just five cars a day!

The Ambassador began losing its dominance in the mid-1980s when Maruti Suzuki introduced its low-priced 800 hatchback. It lost further cachet and market share when global automakers began setting up shop in India in the mid-1990s, offering models with contemporary designs and technology. But the biggest setback came in 2003. In 2003, Prime Minister of India’s fleet of Ambassador was replaced with German-made BMWs.

The biggest reason for its decline was not bringing any change in the model for last 60 years. The sales of the Ambassador had been taking a steep dive since ages, which now is no secret. The West Bengal-based company had always been in troubled waters ever since the zippier and more frugal Japanese motors arrived on the horizon. The efforts from the management to continue production and revive the unit have failed, and the work at the plant has been suspended with effect from May 24, 2014.

The Ambassador remained the choice of a dwindling share of bureaucrats and politicians, usually in white with a red beacon on top and a chauffeur at the wheel. It is still in use as a taxi in some Indian cities particularly in Kolkata, where there was about 33,000 Ambassador taxis at the end of 2013.

“There are newer cabs in Kolkata of different companies now, but we still drive an Ambassador and cannot think of driving in the city without it,” said Satichidananda Jha, 52, who has been driving a yellow Ambassador taxi in Kolkata for nearly three decades.” She is my livelihood,” he said. The car will still remain popular with taxi drivers, some politicians and tourists looking for a bit of nostalgia on India trips. A new Ambassador in Kolkata starts at 515,000 rupees, according to a dealer in the city.

About Hindustan Motors

■             Hindustan Motors Limited (HM) was established in 1942 by BM Birla in Port Okha near Gujarat.

■             In 1948, Hindustan Motors shifted its assembly plant from Port Okha in Gujarat to Uttarpara in West Bengal’s Hooghly district.

■             Hindustan Motors pioneered the automobile manufacturing in India and is flagship Company of the CK Birla Group.

■             It manufactured Ambassador and Contessa cars and utility vehicles like the Trekker, Porter and Pushpak.

■             Hindustan Motors is the only manufacturing facility in the world to manufacture parts for Bedford trucks currently.

Hindustan Motors is now focusing on its alliance with Mitsubishi and Isuzu and producing cars for the Japanese car-makers at its Chennai plant. While Mitsubishi by itself isn’t doing too well either, Isuzu volumes may pick up over a period of time. But the Ambassador is as of now dead for all practical purposes.

The once favourite car of the Indians, Ambassador will now fall into the category of vintage and will remain in books, stories and hearts of many who had enjoyed the pleasure and pride of riding it.

By Joydeep DasGupta

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