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Monday, May 26, 2014

'King of Indian roads' Hindustan Ambassador - is it end of the road !!!

Vestiges of old times vanish without trace ….. in olden days every town had a taxi stand – the vehicles the rich, famous and needy used for hiring and moving around in times of emergency….. and one familiar sight was – most of them were Ambassador cars and others were ‘Fiat’ cars…. Uttarpara is a town of Hooghly District, West Bengal, India.  It is a town of historical importance. Uttarpara is home to some of the biggest industrial setups in the state. It has the United Spirits Distilliery, Shalimar Wire Products, Hindustan Motors which is the only vehicle plant in West Bengal which manufactures the car Ambassador. 

Once the royal vehicle, the white one particularly at that, the Hindustan Ambassador is a car manufactured by Hindustan Motors of India. It has been in production since 1958 with few improvements or changes.  Amby was based on the Morris Oxford III model, first made by the Morris Motors Limited at Cowley, Oxford. Despite its British origins, the Ambassador is considered as a definitive Indian car and is fondly called "The king of Indian roads".  Amby’s ruled the road –  bureaucrats and politicians, usually in white with a red beacon on top; – so did travel agencies offering comfort to its passengers ..  
It is stated that when the Birlas wanted a new model to replace their already old Hindustan models based on the Morris Oxford Series Il (Hindustan Landmaster), they scouted for the new Morris Oxford Series III. The  car at that point was quite an innovation with a fully enclosed  chassis,  making it most  spacious inside. Those who travelled would vouch that it was far more comfortable than many luxurious cars of date – the owner would sit comfortably in the rear seat with driver changing the floor gears (later day versions had hand gear too). Besides there had been many other variants including Contessa, which perhaps did not do well – then there was the lancer… made at Thiruvallur where HM and Mitsubishi partnered.  Remember visiting the plant and even going for a ride in the rumble-tumble testodrome ~ Lancer and its sports model were to be for the up-market but was not a runaway success.  

Read from their web that  Hindustan Motors Limited was established during the pre-Independence era at Port Okha in Gujarat. Operations were moved in 1948 to Uttarpara in district Hooghly, West Bengal, where the company began the production of the iconic Ambassador. Equipped with integrated facilities such as press shop, forge shop, foundry, machine shop, aggregate assembly units for engines, axles etc Ambassador of various hue  (1500 and 2000 cc diesel, 1800 cc petrol, CNG and LPG variants)  were rolling out. HM also has operations in Pithampur near Indore in Madhya Pradesh where it produced 1800 cc CNG and other variants of Winner. In Kolkata almost all the taxis that run are Ambassadors ~ for long, the taxis at Chennai airport  were only Ambys, now you find other models including Maruti Swift Dzire Tour.

Read with some sadness that Hindustan Motors Ltd, on Saturday announced suspension of work at its Uttarpara factory near Kolkata, putting at risk at least 2,500 jobs. Economic Times and other newspapers report that in a stock market filing, Hindustan Motors said it had to halt production in view of “low productivity, growing indiscipline, critical shortage of funds, lack of demand for its core product, the Ambassador, and large accumulation of liabilities”. West Bengal’s labour minister Purnendu Bose said in television interviews that the state government will intervene to find a solution. Trading in Hindustan Motors’ shares had to be halted on Friday after it jumped 19.9% to Rs.13.30 on BSE. The company sold about 2,200 Ambassadors in the fiscal year ended in March 2014, a tiny share of the 1.8 million passenger cars sold during the year in India, according to industry data. A new Ambassador in Kolkata starts at Rs.5,15,000/-  according to a dealer in the city.

Some industry watchers  opine that it would be difficult for the “grand old lady” of the Indian car market to make a comeback.  Last year, despite its dwindling sales, the distinctive car with its bulbous design and roomy interior was named the world’s best taxi by the BBC’s popular Top Gear television show. Sadly, the present imbroglio is pushing to its end. From the time when it was considered so roomy to house the entire family, the pride is gone – though there are smaller families with small cars flashily moving around.   It had no power steering, no power windows; no music systems;  no side mirrors, no power brakes, no stick shift gears, no seat belts. The seating resembled two sofas placed one in front of the other; yet these cars  were sold at a premium, and the manufacturers got as rich as they wanted, controlling the supply side to ensure that a black market premium thrived.

In winning the crown of durability in BBC show, the Hindustan Ambassador taxi saw off rivals from Britain, America, Germany, South Africa, Mexico and Russia ~ but sadly could not survive in the local market.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar.

26th May 2014.

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