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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 August, 2003, 09:54 GMT 10:54 UK
Bid to revive India's top car
By Ayanjit Sen
BBC correspondent in Delhi

The grand old lady of the Indian car industry - the Ambassador - is set to hit the roads in a new, upgraded version.
New Hindustan Motors model for Ambassador
Gift-wrapped: The new look Ambassador Grand

Modelled on the old British Morris Oxford, the Ambassador was once a symbol of India. But it has recently been facing a tough time competing with newer cars on the market.

All this may be about to change, if the Ambassador's makers, Hindustan Motors, have their way.

The company has added new features to the car such as power steering. It has also touched up its rugged looks, giving a sleeker face to the new model, named the Grand.

Hindustan Motors hopes to attract younger buyers to a car which, until now, has remained the transport of choice for ministers, bureaucrats and taxi drivers.

Sales of the Ambassador have been falling sharply over the last decade.

New markets

The vice-president of Hindustan Motors, Satish Burman, told the BBC that while special care has been taken to retain the core concepts of the car, its technology could now compete with any other car in the Indian market.

Sikh taxi driver with fleet
The car remains a firm favourite amongst India's taxi drivers

"We have continuously worked on the Ambassador to make it more appropriate for the Indian roads," said Mr Burman.

The Ambassador car makers are also targeting the broader South Asian market.

"If the ambassador could be a hit in Calcutta, it can do the same in Dhaka," said Mr Burman.

The company, which manufactured 14,000 cars last year, is also hoping to target the UK market, he said.

The Indian Government has a fleet of several thousand white Ambassador cars and is one of the biggest buyers of the brand.

It is the official vehicle for many senior politicians, top civil servants and judges.

India's 'Chevrolet'

The Indian Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, has recently taken to travelling in a BMW.

But come Independence Day last week, he preferred to be seen in the familiar comforts of an Ambassador.

One of the leading dealers of the Ambassador in northern India - Major Jai Gopal - told the BBC that he was upbeat about the new model.

The new-look Ambassador, with Satish Burman of Hindustan Motors
Satish Burman of Hindustan Motors says the new model will be competitive

"The car has a good mix of heritage value and luxury.

"The Ambassador is to India what the Chevrolet is to the United States," the major said.

A former professor in Delhi, PS Dwivedi, is the proud owner of a 1961 model of the Ambassador. He said he learnt to drive in his car.

"I love the car and till now I use it for all purposes," he said.

Mr Dwivedi said this car gave him a distinct sense of Indian-ness on the road, and was ideally equipped for the country's bumpy, pot-holed thoroughfares.

But critics say the company should try to improve their sales strategy rather than coming out with new models.

They say that at present the Ambassador will only appeal to the minority of people who want to be different.

In an earlier bid to revive the brand, Hindustan Motors officials said their focus was on India's smaller cities and towns and on large Indian families which like to travel together.

India's Ambassador gets a facelift
17 Jan 02  |  South Asia
Car producers target India
12 Jan 00  |  South Asia

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