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Vintage car's luxury avatar

Sohini Das  |  Kolkata 

Aman resort in Delhi chooses the iconic Indian brand — the Ambassador — to build its limousine fleet.

Ambassador, the ubiquitous taxi or government vehicle has transformed into a limousine! Affectionately called Amby, the country’s first indigenous car manufactured by (HM) is quietly finding a place in the vintage segment of luxury cars offered by premium hotels.

Amanresorts International Pte Ltd, the Singapore based company that owns and manages 21 small, luxury resorts worldwide has a fleet of 10 Ambys for its New Delhi property. “It seemed natural to embrace the understated unique style of Hindustan Motor’s Ambassador and add it to our fleet. The car is synonymous with India as well as New Delhi,” said Antony Treston, general manager for Aman Delhi.

The ultra luxury resort is planning to add five more Ambassadors to its all-fleet. “All our international guests loved them and, in fact, many asked if they could have one shipped”, Treston said. But to be offered as a limo service, the car underwent a makeover. Aman worked with HM for a custom-made ‘retro’ dashboard, with a large, central speed dial, mushroom leather interiors, wood finish details together with I-pod docking, cool box and a modern music system. All the 10 Ambassadors in the hotel’s fleet are painted in a special shimmering silver colour that has been developed exclusively for Aman Delhi. s

It’s probably the flexibility of the car that makes it unique. “We are aware that we cater to strikingly different market segments. At one end, the brand association is with the premium (read government power). On the other, it is the common man’s taxi,” said the spokesperson for the C K Birla Group. Clearly, the brand appeals to both ends of the spectrum; taxi operators love it for ease of maintenance and availability of spare parts. But thanks to its association with Indian politicians, government officials and diplomats, it’s become the symbol of power.

The HM spokesperson said that the company’s small team canvasses the product in various circles. However, it is not planning to launch any communication campaign to reposition the brand. The numbers don’t support its promotion for the luxury segment. HM sells around 15,000 Ambassadors annually of which around 65 per cent are run as taxis, 20 per cent are sold to various government departments and the rest go to individual consumers.

To leverage its ‘vintage value’ some cars are exported to countries like the UK. “We sold around eight to ten cars to one of UK’s car rental companies Karma Kabs,” said the HM spokesperson. The company offers a unique Indian experience to its customers and decks up the vehicle with incense sticks, marigolds and hibiscus flowers. “A customer has to shell out around twice the amount for a Karma Kab compared to a regular taxi”, she added.

Hindustan Motors’ Ambassador, the first car to be manufactured in India, has been in production since 1948 and is the sole survivor of the 1950’s era of Morris sedans. The rear axle from a 1949 Morris is still used in the Ambassador for its excellent roadworthiness. The is robust and suited to Indian road conditions. “The mechanic across the road can fix it. He knows the car inside out,” said the spokesperson.

HM plans to continue banking on the ‘retro’ value of thsse Ambassador as a brand and quietly position it as the iconic Indian car. The company is not eyeing huge numbers, but it’s a way to keep the brand alive, especially, among the youth.

Though Tata Nano is India’s latest claim to fame in the fast changing global automotive masrket, it’s the Hindustan Ambassador that dominated Indian roads for most part of the 20th century. And just when everyone thought it has run out of steam, the is back in a new avatar.

First Published: Mon, May 11 2009. 00:20 IST