India’s iconic Ambassador car brand sold to France’s Peugeot

The Indian company CK Birla Group that owns Hindustan Motors will sell the iconic brand to the French car maker for 800 million rupees.

Hindustan Motors stopped making Ambassadors in 2014. Money Sharma / EPA
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Peugeot, the French car manufacturer, has bought the Ambassador, India’s most iconic car brand, from Hindustan Motors. The deal signifies the passing of an era in India’s motoring history.

Over the weekend, the CK Birla Group, which owns Hindustan Motors, said it had signed an agreement with Peugeot to sell the Ambassador for 800 million rupees (Dh43.9m).

The hulking Ambassador sedan remained largely unchanged for more than five decades, ferrying India’s elite, including prime ministers, visiting heads of states and celebrities. It was a throwback to an era when India’s policy of economic self-sufficiency meant domestically produced cars were the norm.

First manufactured in 1948, the Ambassador was the only luxury car available in India until the mid-1980s. By the early 1990s, economic reforms had opened India’s doors to many small car manufacturers.

Hindustan Motors stopped making Ambassadors in 2014 after only 2,200 cars were sold in 2013.

Fondly referred to as the “Amby”, the Ambassador was modelled after the British Morris Oxford III. Its lumbering shape was often compared to a bowler hat on wheels and its suspension was suited for India’s potholed roads and rugged terrain. But poor fuel mileage and a lack of luxury features led a rising Indian middle class to aspire to own cheaper, newer models that were easier to manoeuvre in crowded cities.

Displaced by Japanese and Korean cars, the sturdy Ambassadors were relegated to use by taxi services and government departments. But even that has changed with the Indian government switching to smaller, swifter cars than the bulbous Ambassador.

It is unclear what exactly the French car maker plans to do with the Amby.

Peugeot pulled out of India after a joint-venture effort in the 1990s collapsed. Last month, it signed an agreement with Birla to return to the fast-growing market, saying it will invest $107m in a Hindustan Motors manufacturing facility in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

That deal includes raising manufacturing capacity to 100,000 vehicles a year, to take advantage of the rapid growth in India, where car sales expanded by 7 per cent to 2.96 million cars last year.

* Associated Press

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