Hindustan Motors (HM) is in news again though for a reason that I hate. I got the shock of my life when Dr. Puri who happens to be almost my family doctor in Noida talked about HM and its lockout. How could he know this? After all, for the national newspapers, the news was insignificant. Mr. Puri might have come to know of it from the news channels on TV.
Citu- the official union at HM is with the management. But an union- Sangrami Shramik Karmachari Union (SSKU), unknown to me has come up and has been agitating for some demands. It struck work. Thereon the management declared lockout. Buddha’s government is trying to come with some solutions but many of its attempts have failed till date. The management as reported has taken out the components and toolings that belonged to Tata Motors with help of a court order under police protection.
Perhaps HM may be prepared over years to close down the plant if it comes to that. It hardly produces 10-12 thousand cars a year. All other units such as heavy engineering division and steel foundry are already sold. The auto division is having highly dedicated facilities so far the machining side is concerned. It is only with a significant investment that HM could have become real auto component manufacturer. I don’t think the present management has any such strategy. It must be trying to keep the shop open till it can.
The other day the Financial Express published a report ‘Ambassador on the road to extinction?’ I felt bad about it, as I have spent the prime of my life there. HM could have remained a significant player in passenger car sector but for a very poor family management. It had an opportunity to get into small car much before Hyundai and Daewoo started producing Santro, and Matiz (presently Spark from GM India). But the management was not interested in taking a bold step at that time. HM can’t survive with its Mitsubishi Lancer. Perhaps, it is not interested to continue in car business itself.
But the present strike, fight between the unions, and lockout take me down the memory lane and remind me of similar incidents that kept on happening much before I joined HM in 1961 and thereafter too till Citu took the total control. The management thought it better to have peace with Citu at all cost, as the government in the state remained leftists. HM decided to have its new manufacturing facilities at Vadodara for Isuzu trucks (Halol), Indore for power trains (Pithampur), and then Chennai for Mitsubishi Lancer cars. HM could not grow even in the new locations because of extremely shortsighted management policies.
It is breathing its last. Its cars will be extinct. It will be part of history as a company that pioneered car manufacturing in India.
However, whenever I find someone writing or news about HM and Ambassadors, I get a kick. Aft Shashi Tharoor has been writing ‘A glossary of Indianness’ in his column in Sunday Times of India these days. In its first installment, he had included ‘Ambassador’ and in its second ‘Birla’ that I am quoting below.
Ambassador: Ambassador cars are the classic symbol of India’s post-independence industrial development. Outdated even when new, inefficient and clumsy, wasteful of steel and petrol, overpriced and overweight, with a steering-mechanism like an ox-cart’s and a frame like a tank’s, the Ambassador dominated Indian routes for decades, protected and patronised in the name of self-reliance. Foreigners were constantly amazed that this graceless ugliness enjoyed two-year waiting-lists at all the dealers right up to the 1990s. What they didn’t realise is that if they had to drive on Indian roads in Indian traffic-conditions, they’d have preferred Ambassadors too.
Birla: Is a name attached to a number of leading Indian institutions: mandirs, planetariums, trusts, schools, clinics, institutes of technology, all of which have been made possible by a number of other leading institutions to which the Birla name is not attached, like Century Mills and Ambassador cars.
The Mobile Republic
Stodgy, clumsy, ugly—these are some of the favoured epithets used to describe an enduring symbol of India’s ill-fated flirtation with socialism: the Ambassador car. But critics of the lumbering Amby need to watch their words. As the car that began its journey by rolling out of the Uttarpara plant in Bengal’s Hooghly district in 1957 celebrates its golden jubilee this year, it is transforming itself into a new symbol of retro chic.