A Classic Indian Sedan Fades - WSJ.com
Rohit Khare stashed this in TRAVELMAN
Long the favored vehicle of India's politically powerful, Ambassadors today still shuttle around thousands of chauffeured government bureaucrats and military brass nationwide. Blue vehicles for the air force, black for the army, white for the navy and for politicians.
For decades, in fact, the Ambassador—a car that looks all but unchanged from the 1950s British-designed Morris Oxford upon which it was based—was the only car these government officials were allowed to buy. But among regular car buyers, the sedan's popularity has tumbled as India's auto industry opens to more contemporary rivals.
This past weekend, changing tastes led to the brand's suspension. Hindustan Motors, based in Kolkata, said Saturday that it closed indefinitely the factory where Ambassadors were made. The company cited low productivity, a "critical shortage of funds" and a lack of demand for its core product, the Ambassador.
And last year, car buyers nationwide snapped up some 2.5 million new cars. Yet just 2,214 Ambassadors were sold during the 12 months ended March 31, according to Hindustan Motors.
Since the then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee opted for a sleek custom-made BMW in 2003, it's been steadily downhill for the grand old lady that had once ruled Indian roads. The common man had given up much earlier, eagerly embracing the zippier Maruti 800 when it was launched in 1983. Now seven decades after the first Ambassador rolled out,Hindustan Motors has put the brakes on its Uttarpara, West Bengal factory.
With Amby sales declining rapidly from a high of 24,000 units a year in the mid-1980s to under 12,000 a decade later and less than 6,000 in the mid-2000s, the HM management struggled to position the car. In the final days of the Uttarpara plant, the 2,600-odd workers were manufacturing just five cars a day
"We live near the Ambassador factory," has been a proud refrain for decades. The Uttarpara plant dates back to 1942, making it the second oldest in Asia after Japanese giant Toyota.