India's once iconic Ambassador car grinds to a halt
May 26, 2014, 12:07 am TWN
NEW DELHI -- The maker of India's Ambassador car has suspended production, citing debt and lack of demand for the iconic vehicle which came to define the country's political class, a company official said Sunday.
Hindustan Motors, India's oldest carmaker, shut down its factory on Saturday at Uttarpara in West Bengal state, where it has been making the Ambassador — based on Britain's long-defunct Morris Oxford — since 1957.
"Work has been suspended indefinitely at the Uttarpara factory. It is being done to ensure the company doesn't bleed more (money) and to enable us to draw plans for its revival," the senior official told AFP.
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 recognizable car on India's roads, has been muscled out over the years by the entry of more modern vehicles, particularly SUVs increasingly favored 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 five percent deterring new customers.
The Hindustan Motors official said 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, according to the Times of India on Sunday, 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," the paper quoted India's leading auto designer Dilip Chhabria as saying.