On February 10, 2017 India’s oldest and indigenous car makers, Hindustan Motors (HM) sold its Ambassador brand and goodwill to French auto major, Groupe PSA that manufactures and sells brands such as Peugeot, Citroën and DS Automobiles. The step brought mixed reactions with the hopeful management reveling in the strategic move, the worried workers uncertain about their future and the scores of nostalgic Indians reminiscing about the brand and its sturdy automobile. The C K Birla owned company had been struggling since long and shut its shop at its Uttarpara (a suburb of Kolkata) factory in 2014.
Designed on the lines of Britain’s Oxford Morris Series III in 1958, Ambassador was a high status symbol. It was also seen as a representative of India’s technological advancement and economic freedom from the British Rule. As the first diesel car of India with a powerful engine under its hood that went from 0 to 50 kmph in 18 seconds; it was the preferred vehicle for politicians, Presidents, actors, business and taxi drivers. In fact, in the 70s and 80s the Ambassador was raced on gruelling rallies like the Karnataka 1000 and the Himalayan Rally and emerged with positive results. Known as the “King of Indian Roads” for its sturdy build and it was also India’s longest production car from 1958 to 2014.
The 56 years of productions have seen seven generations of the Ambassador. Mark-1 belonged to the first generation while Encore was the seventh generation Ambassador, which complied with BS-IV engine standards. The legacy car was priced at Rs 14,000 in 1958 and was sold for Rs 5.22 lakh in 2014. The Ambassador was voted the world’s best taxi by Top Gear in 2013, where companies from Britain, America, Germany, South Africa, Mexico and Russia lost out to Hindustan Motors. Till date, overcoming many odds the Ambassador runs as the yellow and white taxis in Kolkata. Though it is no more mandatory to drive an Ambassador for commercial registration as taxi driver in Kolkata; the taxi owners complain of the stiff competition faced from app based taxi services (the ones that use cars of modern brands and not an Ambassador). With fading glory, in FY 2013-2014 HM managed to sell under 2500 units of the car in India, mostly to the political class and taxi operators in cities like Delhi and Kolkata.
Media reports say the new owner is planning to re-launch the vehicle as a premium sedan in India. Encashing on the emotional aspect that the brand Ambassador has in India, the new variant would be priced between Rs 5.5-6 lakh to Rs 9 lakh. This would put Ambassador as a premium product rivalling Hyundai Xcent, Honda Amaze, Honda City, Volkswagen Vento and Maruti Suzuki Swift Dzire. The premium sedan would sport a contemporary design and discard the old look of its predecessors. It is also expected to retain the silhouette of the original ambassador with major restyling in body panels.
It is a pity that over the years Ambassador has lost out to modern competitors such as Maruti Suzuki, Hyundai, Toyota and Honda. However, with all the changes in the pipeline one hopes the 80-20 Joint Venture (JV) between Groupe PSA and HM aids in bringing back the iconic brand in production.