French Lion buys an In­dian icon & Tata has a Tigor in its tank!


Adil, Bijoy, Sid­dharth and Meaden

THE TI­TLE OPENER ABOVE SHOULDN’T JUST be sen­sa­tion­al­ist but truly some­thing to fathom, es­pe­cially where the first half of it is con­cerned! I must say again that I have been stumped by Peu­geot’s move – for the bet­ter I must add, just as I was be­fud­dled by its ear­lier lack of spunk to stand and de­liver a cou­ple of years ago when it backed out of its com­mit­ment to en­ter In­dia with a green­field unit. Add to that the fact that the French ma­jor could be buy­ing up Adam Opel in Ger­many from Gen­eral Mo­tors means ei­ther there is some­thing dra­mat­i­cally wrong with re­cent form at Au­to­mo­biles Peu­geot or that the French ma­jor has fi­nally de­cided that it needs to shed its in­hi­bi­tions and start op­er­at­ing out of its com­fort mar­kets which can­not de­liver any ad­di­tional vol­umes.

Quite clearly though it has been a coup of sorts for the C K Birla Group which has been the cus­to­dian of the Am­bas­sador brand be­cause it en­ables them an hon­ourable exit from au­to­mo­bile man­u­fac­tur­ing and yet stay in­volved! I don't want to delve on this as­pect but pon­der on what the Am­bas­sador meant and what could be the new age Am­bas­sador Peu­geot in­tends to build and sell in In­dia. First off, the Am­bas­sador stood for all and every­thing that was bad about so­cial­ist In­dia and also the way many car­mak­ers or big in­dus­try names op­er­ated in the li­cence raj. This needn’t have been so be­cause the prod­uct had its virtues but the way HM went about in­di­genis­ing it with con­sis­tent qual­ity de­fi­cien­cies meant that medi­ocrity was man­i­fest in its de­liv­ery. It thrived for over three decades and laboured for a fur­ther three decades, as there was no op­tion (un­til the ad­vent of Maruti Suzuki put paid to it some­what) thanks to it be­ing per­ceived as the car for power in the form of politi­cos and babus!

I have a 1960 Am­bas­sador that has done 1,53,000km and is still run­ning. Of course it has been metic­u­lously main­tained and needs con­stant TLC and fet­tling only by me­chan­ics that un­der­stood not just what made it tick but also how it ticked its way through all these years. The en­gines from that early start (Am­bas­sadors came with a side valve en­gine in 1958 fol­lowed in late 1959 with the ohv unit) to the ones a decade later should have im­proved but the case was the ex­act op­po­site and from there on it never kept pace with any­thing. How­ever, it had its virtues in the form of be­ing the car to be chauf­feured in (at a se­date pace mind you), had ter­rific boot space, ingress and egress was fan­tas­tic, it was sim­ple to re­pair and had the vis­ual so­lid­ity to im­press.

No won­der then that when Ratan Tata tasked his de­sign­ers and en­gi­neers to give In­dia its first in­dige­nous car – the Indica, he had the space and com­fort of the Am­bas­sador very much in fo­cus. And this is where Peu­geot must be hedg­ing its bets on but also want­ing to draw in the longevity of the brand to its ad­van­tage. The ob­jec­tive could be about get­ting an older Peu­geot plat­form re-en­gi­neered into an ar­chi­tec­ture that would make for a spa­cious car like the Am­bas­sador with a strong per­sona and yet be most unAm­bas­sador like with per­for­mance, ride and han­dling, safety and re­li­a­bil­ity built in. I for one would be most ea­ger to see how the French lion goes about rein­car­nat­ing a fa­bled al­beit flawed In­dian au­to­mo­bile icon.

As an aside, I must say that the In­dian au­to­mo­tive mar­ket is now so much in the reck­on­ing that OEMs are us­ing al­ter­nate strate­gies to make their mark by buy­ing brand names just so that they could tap in the per­ceived legacy strengths of brands like Jawa, BSA and now Am­bas­sador. What are the chances of some­one like Fiat snap­ping up a Pad­mini? Cra­zier things have been known to hap­pen!

And to round off this month’s col­umn, last year in March my team and I set a new bench­mark in the In­dian au­to­mo­tive world by sub­ject­ing four cars from the Tata Mo­tors port­fo­lio (Zest, Bolt and Tiago petrol and diesel) in a 50,000km non-stop en­durance run at the VRDE in Ahmed­na­gar. Just un­der a year from then the firm has seen its Tiago hatch­back record sales of 50,000 units and now it seems to have the ver­i­ta­ble Tigor in its tank (read port­fo­lio). The hatch­back ver­sion of the Tiago is due for launch soon and this should only help give Tata Mo­tors added teeth and clout in two of the most im­por­tant seg­ments in the In­dian mar­ket. Oh what a dif­fer­ence a year can make and for sure it is heart­en­ing to see an In­dian Tigor roar just at a time when a French lion wants to hunt here. ⌧

Am­bas­sador stood for all that was bad about so­cial­ist In­dia

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