Everyone grab a Thums Up and pour it out on the ground, because it looks like production of the improbably archaic Hindustan Ambassador may finally be lurching to a halt. Saturday, production was stopped at the West Bengal factory, citing debt and lack of demand.
The company issued a statement which elaborated the reasons further, giving reasons like
... very low productivity, growing indiscipline, critical shortage of funds, lack of demand for its core product ... and large accumulation of liabilities.
"Growing indiscipline?" Yikes. Is there a rash of gum-chewing and unfettered giggling on the production line? The West Bengal factory's output has been down to about five cars a day, so it is pretty clear that demand and production are way down.
The Ambassador was India's first home-built car, essentially a copy of the 1957 Morris Oxford, and it's hardly changed since then, which has both made it a motoring icon and is likely the reason for its demise.
The Times of India interviewed Indian car designer Dilip Chhabria, who made a really interesting point:
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.
I think he's probably right. The Ambassador has always been the car for the Ruling Class, and this reputation could have been perfect to translate the car into a luxury marque, something that would compete with Mercedes, Bentley, Jaguar, and may, just maybe, even Rolls-Royce. Maybe.
To do this, Hindustan would have had to take the fundamental styling and character of the car and mate that to modern platforms and drivetrains, which they possibly could have done, but most assuredly did not.
I had the pleasure of driving an Ambassador while in India, and while part of me loved it, the truth is it was an archaic, diesel-powered anachronism.
That said, I love anachronisms, and I'll be sorry to see the Amby go. I hope they manage to find a way to modernize the car and keep it competitive, while keeping the basic spirit of the the old hunchbacked lady alive. And now I'll really need to update the Oldest Cars in Production list, since 2014 has been such a cruel year, taking the Microbus and now the Ambassador.
Also, I think they still could have a niche market selling Ambys to the US without engines specifically for hot-rodder and lowrider use. Seriously, a lowrider Ambassador would be fantastic.