Farewell Curvaceous Ambassador at 57
The iconic Ambassador car has finally called it a day. Its makers have announced last week that they are suspending its production. The main reason is lack of demand. With a 2500 plus labour force, they were making five cars a day. At this level it is grossly uneconomical to continue production.
The Ambassador was also popularly known as Amby. It has the distinction of being the longest produced car model in the world. Its production was started in 1957, at the company's Uttarpara plant in West Bengal. The model was based on the Morris Oxford of UK. It soon captured nearly 70% of the car market. The other 30% was with Fiat makers. At its peak it was producing nearly 24,000 cars a year in the relatively small car market of the sixties and seventies.
The curvaceous car, upon its production, with ample space for passengers and luggage soon became a hit with car owning Indians. Its strong body gave it strength to run on potholed roads and rugged mountain roads and through waterlogged ones as well. Over time it became clear that it was also a durable car that could last and run for a large number of years.
The city which adopted it to its heart was Kolkatta. The car seemed to blend beautifully with the city's landscape and large curvaceous buildings. The car also became the favourite of politicians and government departments. The netas and babus found its ample space suitable for their comfort and it also became associated with power.
The large-sized Indian families also took to it as it could accommodate literally a dozen and more persons. The drivers also liked to drive it because of the sense of power it gave them. It was only a matter of time before ot got used widely as a taxi. Its larges passenger and boot space and ability to negotiate rugged features in planes and mountains made it ideal for use by taxi owners. In Kolkatta today also there are 33,000 plus Ambassador cars running as taxis on its roads. What the black Fiat taxis were to Mumbai yellow Ambassador taxis are to Kolkatta.
Generations have grown with fond memories of their childhood and youth spent traveling in the Amby. In its backseat, lovers have stolen kisses, netas have planned their schemes, villains have chased their victims and passengers have anxiously reached just in time railway stations and airports.
However the eighties saw the Maruti and other cars entering the Indian market with functional and fuel efficient models. The downfall of Ambassador had started. The other car Fiat caved in but the gritty Amby continued on taxi and government demand. Its makers introduced upgradations in style, engine and internal features etc. But the Amby was an outdated car. For too long it had not kept with the times enjoying its monopoly because of government's protective policies. Thus when competition emerged it was time for it to depart.
It is to the credit of Ambassador that it withstood growing competition and continued till now. An uninterrupted run of 57 years on a single model with a few cosmetic changes is an unbeatable world record. Although its production has been suspended and not stopped, the writing on the wall is clear. Its days are over. It will be economically un viable to continue its production.The government has also moved to buying latest models of other makes. The politicians have moved on to latest SUV's. The demand for Amby has dwindled and only five cars a day were being manufactured.
All products have a product life cycle and the last stage after maturity is declining stage. In the initial stages of introduction and growth it enjoyed a near monopoly and in the last two stages strong competition is driving it into oblivion. But the sheer longevity is something that it can be proud of. Just last year BBC in its popular Top Gear program voted the 'indestructible' Ambassador Cars of Kolkatta the best taxis in the world.
The 'indestructible' Ambassador is now a relic of our closed door economic policies era which we followed till 1991-92. In the post liberalized India car models need to be changed every few years to cater to the short attention span of customers who are prepared to invest in new models every few years. The country is far more richer today and loyalty to a car or a job are not seen favourably.
It shall now live in the memory of its lovers for a long time and will be found running on the roads of Kolkatta till the last taxi bows out after at least a decade and a half in the future, if the longevity of the Fiat taxis in Mumbai is a reference.
Ambassador car - adieu.
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