According to various reports, Hindustan Motors has suspended production of the Ambassador at its Uttarpara, West Bengal plant, where it has been built since 1957. Reasons given by Hindustan include low productivity, lack of demand, a shortage of funds, an accumulation of liabilities and “growing indiscipline.”
A true Indian icon, the Amby is based on Britain’s long-defunct Morris Oxford Series III. In its heyday it was a status symbol that represented the aspirations of India, being the vehicle of choice for nearly all government officials and politicians. Hindustan held a 70% share of the country’s car market at the time.
Today, thanks in part to market liberalisation, many state authorities have switched to more modern vehicles, although the grand old lady remains a popular taxi, especially in Calcutta - where do you think Dr Bombay got the inspiration for his 1998 smash-hit from?
Over the years, India’s oldest-surviving carmaker has updated the Amby many times in an attempt to keep it relevant – including giving it a substantial facelift in 2004 with the Ambassador Avigo (below) – but growing concerns of late, mostly regarding fuel efficiency and safety, have pretty much sealed its fate.
Sales have reportedly plummeted from 24,000 cars a year in the 1980s to under 6,000 in the 2000s. Last year, Hindustan sold only 2,200 of these anachronisms - really not a lot when you consider 1.8 million passenger cars found Indian homes that year.
And it’s not just its beloved Amby – Hindustan Motors has reportedly accumulated losses exceeding its net worth, and is looking for investors. Output at Uttarpara has apparently been down to five cars a day.
“The suspension of work will enable the company to restrict mounting liabilities and restructure its organisation and finances and bring in a situation conducive to the reopening of the plant,” the carmaker said in a statement.
From Cowley to Calcutta. Here’s to you, Amby-ji.