Mon, May 26, 2014 - Page 15 News List

India’s historically iconic Ambassador sedan stalls

ROADBLOCKS:Rising debt and ‘growing indiscipline’ were cited alongside decreased demand as reasons the 60-year-old marque shut its West Bengal factory

AFP, NEW DELHI

An Ambassador turns a corner during a late afternoon shower in front of India’s Federal Secretariat in New Delhi on July 22, 1997.

Photo: AFP

The maker of India’s Ambassador car has suspended production, citing debt and lack of demand for the vehicle which came to define the country’s political class, a company official said on Saturday.

Hindustan Motors (HM), India’s oldest car maker, shut down its factory on Saturday in Uttarpara in West Bengal State, where it has made 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 said.

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 almost 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.

However, the most recognizable car on India’s roads has been muscled out by more modern vehicles.

The country’s once-booming car market has suffered a slump in recent years, with the economy growing at under 5 percent.

The company official said the factory turns out five cars a day.

Sales dropped from 24,000 cars a year in the 1980s to less than 6,000 recently, the Times of India said, forecasting the end of the road for the “grand old lady” or “Amby.”

“Had HM 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 Indian auto designer Dilip Chhabria as saying.

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