The automotive industry moves at a pretty brisk pace. Old models are replaced by new ones, and new ones are replaced by even newer ones. But things don't always move so quickly in developing countries. In Brazil, for example, Volkswagen continued to produce the old Kombi van for 56 years with little modification until recently. And in India, the 1948 Morris Oxford has been in production as the Hindustan Ambassador since 1958. But that now looks to be drawing to a close as well.
The Ambassador is built in Kolkata by Hindustan Motors, the four-wheeled equivalent of Royal Enfield: an Indian company making old British vehicles pretty much the way they were designed decades ago. As its name suggests, it became a favorite of senior diplomats and government ministers, and also sees widespread use as a taxi cab. But though the Ambassador may have become an icon in India, sales have dropped dramatically over the years.
In the 1980s, Hindustan was reportedly selling around 24,000 Ambassadors each year, but last year it only sold 2,214 of them as state officials switched to more secure vehicles and private customers opted for more maneuverable, fuel-efficient and altogether more modern options – particularly as the government opened up the market to imports and foreign-supported joint ventures. Couple that with dropping discipline on part of Hindustan factory workers and growing debt, and it's little wonder that the company has shut down production.
For its part, Hindustan Motors hopes to get a handle on its debt and restart production at the factory in West Bengal, but as India modernizes and mobilizes at a rapid rate, it could be looking at the end of the long-lived Ambassador once and for all.