India: The end of Ambassador, the end of an era

Before global and domestic automakers flooded Indian market with a phalanx of cars, life used to be simple. There were three cars which everyone just knew. Iconic Ambassador, Stylish Premier Padmini and cute Maruti 800. Maruti 800 was the Tata Nano of the 80s and 90s in India. Until the 80s one car ruled Indian auto market. The Ambassador was the icon of power, status and wealth.

A man getting out of a Ambassador can be easily assigned to a social status. He is a man of means. He is either wealthy, in public service or a politician. All the government vehicles were Ambassadors for the good part of pre-2000 era. The comfort you get in an Ambassador isn’t something which can get in most of the latest cars flooding the market. Yet Ambassadors are staring at a slow but sure death. There is nothing wrong with the car itself. It just failed to re-invent, align with the audience and change its shape. This is a big ass car, which is hard to maneuver and needs a skilled driver with great biceps. The mass is rather disproportionate. The weight of the car would probably be the same as Maruti SX4, but SX4 has distributed the weight more evenly and provided appealing contours and drivable dimensions.

An Ambassador car parked with other vehicles in Calcutta, India. Pic: AP.

Now the Ambassadors are slowly being replaced by Ford Fiestas, Tata Indigo’s, Skoda’s and Honda CR-Vs. Almost every government department has a phase-out plan for the Ambassadors. Delhi police will phase out Ambassadors in favor of Maruti SX4’s. The Indian government, which is the last customer standing between Ambassador and extinction, is slowly deciding to take the sticker off and move to better and more fuel efficient cars. With that we come to an end of Ambassador and probably the end of an era. An era where wealth and status were decided by just the car you drive.

Whenever you see an Ambassador next time, relish the moment. Before you know it, there will be an exhibition of vintage cars and Ambassador(s) will be in it. And nowhere else.