After 57 years of continuous production, a halt has been called on the assembly line of India's famous Hindustan Ambassador.
Hindustan Motors stated in a press release that it had suspended production at its factory near Kolkata. Reasons cited include "worsening conditions at [the] Uttarpara plant which include very low productivity, growing indiscipline, critical shortage of funds, lack of demand for its core product the Ambassador and large accumulation of liabilities".
According to a report in The Economic Times, Hindustan was losing around 70 million Indian rupees ($1.28 million) every month. The company hasn't been able to turn a profit in the last 15 years and its net worth is said to be negative.
Hindustan says it sold only 2200 Ambassadors to March 2014. That's a far cry from the 20,000 or so it was selling annually in the mid-1980s. To put the Ambassador's fall from grace into more context, 2.5 million passenger vehicles were sold in India in 2013, with the Maruti Suzuki Alto selling 265,777 units alone.
Indian Autos Blog reports that Hindustan tried to alleviate its cash crush by selling a manufacturing facility to Mitsubishi, one of its joint venture partners. The plan fell through, though, and Hindustan ultimately transferred the plant to its finance arm.
Based on the Series III Morris Oxford, Hindustan began producing the Ambassador in 1957. From independence in 1947 until 1991, India melded a Soviet Union-style centrally planned economy with a form of democracy similar to its former colonial master. During this period the Ambassador was successful and at one stage held a market share of around 70 per cent. On top of this, it was also a status symbol and was the preferred ride of India's ruling class, including many prime ministers.
During its 57 year career the Ambassador has been updated numerous times, gaining Isuzu engines and a new plastic dashboard in the process. At the time of its last update in 2013, the Ambassador retailed for 497,996 Indian rupees ($9110) to taxi fleets in Kolkata. That car came fitted with a 1.5-litre diesel motor developing at least 26kW of power and 73Nm of torque.
The car can still be seen in vast numbers in Kolkata, where there are an estimated 33,000 black and yellow Ambassador taxis are still in service.