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