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Thursday, June 5, 2014

After 57 years, the world's oldest "new" car finally ends production




Hindustan Ambassador
In 1957, the Hindustan Ambassador brought the gift of four wheels to India, based on Britain's then-old Morris Oxford. During the next 57 years, the car has changed little, making it the oldest "new" mass-produced vehicle still being built. But in a world where evolution matters, it's that staleness that has led sales to plummet, causing production of India's most iconic car to come to a halt.

In recent years, most Ambassador sales in India have been for taxi fleets or government use, with its archaic design, inherent size and poor fuel economy becoming unsuitable for India's middle class. Buyers have been also finally been lured away by even cheaper alternatives from abroad.

According to India's The Economic Times, Hindustan Motors shuttered the Ambassador factory on Saturday, citing "very low productivity, growing indiscipline, critical shortage of funds, a lack of demand and large accumulation of liabilities." It also states that today's senior bureaucrats now prefer SUVs, contributing to production rates falling to just five vehicles per day.

The Ambassador has long been a symbol of power in India. Its lack of evolution, though, has left it as nothing more than a bit of motoring nostalgia. Hindustan ceased production to cut its losses, and has said it will begin drawing plans for its "revival." 

As for that oldest-new car title: The Ambassador's only competition for oldest new car is the Morgan 4/4, a hand-built sports car that has some ancestry with the model that debuted in 1955, although it's been tinkered with several times over the preceeding years.

 Had the Ambassador at least stayed current, while maintaining its historic roots, it could have been the country's version of Rolls-Royce. With funding, it possibly still could be, but it will take an investor with a big heart and even bigger wallet to take such a leap of faith.