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India's oldest car factory shelves elite sedan


India Autos Ambassador
NEW DELHI (AP) - India's oldest car factory has abruptly suspended production of the hulking Ambassador sedan that has a nearly seven-decade history as the car of the Indian elite.

It was unclear how long manufacturing will be on hold, but Kolkata-based Hindustan Motors said Monday it hopes to resume making the so-called "Amby" after a period of restructuring and clearing of its debts.

The heavy car's large size and poor gas mileage have driven customers to cheaper competitors from abroad. About 80 percent of cars sold in India today are small cars that can maneuver in crowded cities and that cater to a rising middle class eager for wheels without costs.

The company began making the Ambassador in 1948, modeling it after the British Morris Oxford III. Last year only 2,214 of the vehicles were sold, reflecting a steep decline from production levels in the 1980s around 24,000 vehicles a year.

Also known as the grand old lady of India's pot-holed and pitted roads, the Ambassador has remained largely unchanged for more than five decades in ferrying the elite including prime ministers and high-society celebrities. It recalls an era when India's policy of economic self-sufficiency meant domestically produced cars were the norm.

Its bulbous chassis and bouncy back seats delight tourists and other passengers nostalgic for earlier times, while many in rural India still view white Ambassadors as the de-facto vehicle of officialdom.

Though most Ambassador sales go to taxi services and government departments, "there has been a reduction in demand for the Ambassador," the company said.

"Sturdiness is its hallmark," the company said. "The robust build, it was always seen as a positive point for customers who wanted durability and safety."

Hindustan Motors, which as of September had accumulated losses greater than its assets, said the company's Uttarpara plant, just outside Kolkata in the eastern state of West Bengal, was suffering from problems including very low productivity, growing indiscipline, a critical shortage of funds and lack of demand for the Ambassador.

It announced the indefinite production suspension, including a halt in the payment of salaries to nearly 2,500 employees, in a notice pasted on the factory gates Saturday night.

Hindustan Motors said it plans to reopen the Uttarpara factory after settling debts and restructuring. The plant also makes a 1-ton mini-truck called the Winner as well as car parts.

"If they want to maintain the vehicle, if they want the brand to survive, they will have to think through some changes in pricing, fuel efficiency," said auto analyst Abdul Majeed at PriceWaterhouseCoopers in India. "The middle class, those folks don't worry about comfort and luxury at this point in time. They are only looking at necessity."

Hindustan Motors has been unsuccessful in a long search for new investors. Earlier this year it transferred another car plant based in the south-coast city of Chennai to its financial arm, Hindustan Motor Finance Corporation Ltd. That plant produces Mitsubishi and Isuzu brand vehicles for the Japanese companies.

Shares of Hindustan Motors sank 10 percent Monday.

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budmannme May 26 2014 at 12:37 PM

This has Obama bailout written all over it!!

Flag Reply +22 rate up
10 replies
me May 26 2014 at 8:59 AM

The picture must be deceiving. that car sure doesn't look that "heavy" & "large" to me.

Flag Reply +16 rate up
7 replies
fsories May 26 2014 at 8:48 AM

Maybe try making it less ugly? It ain't no Taj Mahal . . .

Flag Reply +12 rate up
debnaert May 26 2014 at 11:46 AM

Did you know.... that over 60,000 people in India CRAP on the railroad tracks everyday in INDIA. Imagine the disease.

Flag Reply +10 rate up
8 replies
Larry May 26 2014 at 11:37 AM

Like the Checker cab, safety and comfort give way to the reality of costs.

Flag Reply +8 rate up
1 reply
souperrun101 Larry May 26 2014 at 8:35 PM

It was called the MARATHON cab, made mostly with GM engines and parts.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
1 reply
Dude souperrun101 May 26 2014 at 9:58 PM

The car's name was Marathon built by the Checker Motor Company.

Flag +6 rate up
eagle6922 May 26 2014 at 11:41 AM

@Peter Jorme......The reporter of this article worded the manufacturing of the Ambassador incorrectly. Hindustan Motors was founded in 1942......The first Amabassador was manufactured in 1947......Later in the mid 50's, it manufactured the first Amby pattern after the Morris Oxford lll, calling it the Amby l.......in the 60's it manufactured the Amby ll.......then finally the Amby lll......

Flag Reply +5 rate up
3 replies
steblawar May 26 2014 at 9:25 AM

Kind of reminiscent of the Checker Company here that basically made the same model car, from 1958 until they went bust in the 80's, that were the iconic taxi cabs for most of that period.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
ectullis May 27 2014 at 12:12 AM

When you ask about service do you get an english speaking agent?

Flag Reply +3 rate up
1 reply
John Moran ectullis May 27 2014 at 12:23 PM

No, like most other service agents they either speak Chinglish, or Indglish. In either case we cannot understand them!

Flag Reply 0 rate up
Mark May 26 2014 at 11:52 AM

INTERESTING ENOUGH WHILE IN INDIA YEARS AGO I HAD THE PRIVILEGE OF BEING DRIVEN AROUND IN THIS AUTOMOBILE. GREAT QUIET RIDE AND VERY STURDY. IT ACTUALLY BROUGHT BACK CHILDHOOD MEMORIES OF MY GRANDFATHERS OLD BLACK DODGE.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
1 reply
fred Mark May 26 2014 at 8:27 PM

You had an old black grandfather named Dodge?

Flag Reply 0 rate up
JIM May 26 2014 at 1:36 PM

Looks like a Ford.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
2 replies
fred JIM May 26 2014 at 8:30 PM

No way Ford! An old Chrysler maybe, or a checker.. Unless,, a 50, or 51 Ford. but not so much either.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
1 reply
leah fred May 26 2014 at 11:35 PM

I agree, it kinda has the 53-54 Plymouth, look to the front end, and a 50-52 chevy top. I like it though.

Flag 0 rate up
shidelera5 JIM May 27 2014 at 12:29 AM

yes, looks like some versions of the ford consul made in England but never in usa.

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