INDIA: Hindustan revamping 'world's best taxi'
India's venerable 1950s Morris Oxford-based Hindustan Ambassador - still popular as a taxi and government official transport - is to get a major makeover.
By the end of this year, Hindustan Motors will launch a smaller version of the Ambassador with a host of new features and in a year's time, a new-look car will roll out of the company's Uttarpara plant, the Times of India reported.
Uttam Bose, the new CEO of the CK Birla group's flagship Hindustan Motors, said the boot space of the new variant will be reduced but not the cabin space. The length of the car will thus be shorter and since it will be less than 4m, it will attract lower excise duty and will thus be cheaper. However, it will not fall in the hatchback category.
As for the new model that'll be launched next March, Bose was reluctant to divulge much.
"The new model will be on the existing platform, but will have many new and advanced features that exist in other automobiles. It will have some prefix or suffix to the 'Ambassador' brand and will sport a peppy and youthful look. It will also have new features sought by young and modern customers and will be competitively priced, offering ideal value for money," Bose added.
The order book for the next few months, the company told the paper, is very good. The figures would have been higher had the company been able to introduce the BS-IV compliant engine for its diesel-powered models earlier. It has done so recently after a tie-up with Austria's Magna.
Bose, who crafted the company's turnaround strategy, said: "We decided to focus on customer feedback and sent our sales teams all across the country to meet existing and potential customers and other stakeholders. We discovered that the Ambassador still commands tremendous brand loyalty and needs no introduction."
The car, he added, found eager buyers in remote and interiors parts of the country. "To a person in rural or semi-urban India, the Ambassador is a 'VIP' car. He has seen politicians and bureaucrats travelling in the car and so it is an aspirational car for him."
"We have reached out to such potential customers in the rural and semi-urban areas and have found a new market there," said another senior executive of the company.
The Ambassador's USP, says Bose, is its "formidable brand equity, low cost of ownership, easy and cost-effective maintenance, robust and sturdy build, unmatched cabin space and boot volume and perfect suitability for Indian roads".
The company's turnaround strategy includes expanding its dealer network, offering improved financing options through tie-ups with banks and financial institutions and improving after-sales service.
It is this 'toughness' of the Ambassador that saw it pushing out rivals from Britain, USA, Germany, South Africa, Mexico and Russia to emerge as the 'world's best taxi' in a BBC Top Gear programme.
Apart from the BBC booster, Hindustan Motors is also happy that it has started receiving orders for the Ambassador from Nigeria and Bangladesh. Exports to Nigeria have started and the first lot of Ambassadors is expected to be shipped to Bangladesh next month, the Times of India said.