She starred in movies, was courted by politicians and businessmen alike, and became an entire nation’s dream. Nope. It’s not a woman that I’m talking about. And she definitely is not drop-dead gorgeous. Okay, enough of the suspense… Well, I’m talking about a car. Not an ordinary one – an icon. Here’s the untold story of her reign and gradual fall… and revival on foreign shores.
A few decades ago if you asked any Indian to name India’s national car, you could bet your life on the answer “Ambassador”! Yes, she was born from a British model, the Morris Oxford Series III. But the sturdy Hindustan Motors creation was so perfectly suited to the Indian roads that the Ambassador became a true national symbol. She was the reigning queen in the car world till the ‘80s. Then came the svelte and cute Maruti 800. The entry of this slender beauty spelt danger for the bulky Ambassador. The Maruti 800 instantly won the hearts of the masses. All of a sudden everybody wanted to travel in comfort and style. With its surprisingly spacious interiors, rugged build, and affordable price, the Maruti 800 revolutionized the Indian automobile industry. It became the first car for many Indians. But though the ungainly Ambassador was no match in beauty to the Maruti, she graciously struggled to stay on the scene.
However, things changed for the worse for the Ambassador in the ‘90s. Enter globalization. Global carmakers drove in with new, trendy models in an attempt to capture chunks of one of the world’s fastest growing automobile markets. Indian automobile manufacturers responded to the influx by coming out with indigenous models built according to international standards. Among the most popular sets of wheels rolling in India today – apart from the still-hot Maruti – are the Hyundai Santro and Accent, Honda City, Ford Ikon, Tata indica and Indigo, Mahindra Scorpio (SUV), Fiat Palio, and Mitsubishi Lancer. Alas! The poor Ambassador seems to have lost her long, hard battle. Though she makes an occasional appearance on the streets of India, she is no longer the glamour queen, and people hardly spare her a glance.
So do we have a national car any more? It doesn’t look like it.
With no car having a clear and sustained edge over the others in terms of sales or market share, how would you make a choice? Here are some factors you could consider:
Is the car made in India? Ideally by an Indian company.
Does it have features suited to Indian conditions?
Has the car proven market leadership in terms of a consistently high market share?
Is the car accessible to the masses?
Does the model have universal appeal, cutting across regional and economic barriers?
Has the car struck an emotional chord with the people of India?
Today the good old Ambassador, though relegated to the garage in India, is seen on many foreign shores. The Ambassador is exported to many countries and has specially caught the fancy of the English people. So the car has in a sense returned to her roots…
Now go ahead, cast your vote for out national car! My choice? Nothing to beat the good old Amby... Do write in with your choice for national car of India.