For more than half a century she has been a part of the Indian roads. Call it the Old Dowager of the road, if you like, but the Ambassador refuses to say goodbye even as her new-age competitors, the sleek and nippy Marutis, Suzukis, Opels, Santros et al crowd the Indian roads once ruled by her. The Amby, manufactured by Hindustan Motors since 1948, then under the name Landmaster, has just undergone another little modification that will keep her going: the CNG Bharat Stage III Ambassador Grand.
Small wonder that none other than Henry Ford, even if it is an anecdote, is credited with once having said that the Ambassador is the largest small car or the smallest large car in the world. It's dependability, spaciousness and comfort have made it a part of many generation in its long history. With a tagline of ‘Ride with pride’, it has been a story of unexpected endurance in a cut-throat market.
The Amby sold 12,600 units last year, which is a four per cent increase from the previous year. “On an average, if we sell 1,000 units a month, 100 go to the private sector, 200 to government, and the rest for commercial purposes like taxi service,” said Ashwani Dubey, EVP, Hindustan Motors.
But with the same dour, portly, lumbering shape and design, how does it still notch up sales numbers? Dubey attributed this growth in sales to the continuous improvement that the company has been providing to the Amby. “By not changing the shape, we have ensured sturdiness, safety and reliability, and at the same time maintaining fuel efficiency. We have consistently gone in for upgraded engines retaining the 1.3 ton weight of the car, ensuring it is affordable for the segments who love it. It has all the features of a modern car and doesn’t deteriorate with time. That is the Ambassador’s USP.”
Currently, about 65 per cent of the Ambassador's sales are coming from non-metros and a large percentage from the taxi segment. The company, which has invested Rs 1.25 billion in engine, transmission and assembly facilities in recent years, is aiming to change the perception of the brand to a family vehicle.
The first Ambassador, modelled on the Morris Oxford, hit the Indian roads in 1957. Conforming to its popularity, its second version, Mark II, was introduced six years later. In 1975, the car started exports to South America and Mauritius. Also in the same year, the Mark III version was launched. In the next few years, the car witnessed a substantial drop in sales figures due to increasing competition. Thus, the company introduced the new Ambassador Nova in 1990, and launched the Ambassador 1800 ISZ with an upgraded engine three years hence. In the next six years, HM invested Rs 70 crore to give the car a new look resulting in the Ambassador Classic.
And last week, HM launched the most recent variant, the CNG Bharat Stage III Ambassador Grand with upgraded features including power steering, central locking, power windows, etc., while maintaining its age-old features. The company also recently launched a CNG variant of its popular Ambassador model.
Hindustan Motors was the first Indian company to start automobile manufacturing in 1942. Since then, it has manufactured cars like the Contessa (now discontinued), and in collaboration with Mitsubishi of Japan it manufactures the Mitsubishi Lancer. At present, it is a Rs 1 billion turnover company making passenger cars, utility vehicles, power products and equipment.