Hindustan Ambassador joins Maruti 800, becomes history

2014 is turning out to be an year of significance in the Indian automotive industry as not one but two of the most iconic automobiles that graced our roads were relegated to history in a span of few weeks from each other. The Hindustan Ambassador and the Maruti-Suzuki 800, two cars that inspired many generations of Indians to take to driving, fulfilled their dreams and aspirations of owning a car and dominated their segments for what seemed like eternity, will no longer roll out of depreciated production lines in Uttarapara and Gurgaon respectively. Will we miss them? Of course, yes. But have they left a void? Quite honestly, apart from few short bursts of emotions running high, we don’t think so.

Both the Amby and the 800 existed too long, oblivious to the advent of newer models from around the globe, with designs that weren’t refreshed for years, mechanicals that weren’t significantly re-engineered for decades and boasting next to nothing in terms of safety features or creature comforts. What they had, and had in spades, were legacies and chequered history. They might have had their origins in Britain and Japan but Indians accepted them as their own, showering the Amby and 800 with loads of love and respect.

Hindustan Motors started manufacturing “The grand old lady of Indian Roads”, as the Ambassador is often fondly referred to, in 1958 and the production continued till May-2014 making it, quite possibly, the longest mass-produced car in the planet. Based on Morris Oxford III of Britain that went out of production in 1959, it is quite startling that HM continued to produce the Ambassador in its original form with no significant styling or mechanical updates this long. To put that in perspective, the Amby has had an incredible run of more than 50 years, a period in which normal cars go under the knife five times at the least. Remember, we are being conservative here. Amby’s tough build that could withstand abuse forever, comfortable ride that could take the non-existent Indian roads in its stride, sofa-like rear seat that enabled sari-clad women in our country to walk in and out in total comfort and incredible ease of repair endeared it to Indians. All that HM had to do was constantly upgrade the car to bring it up to date and they failed spectacularly in it.

With cosmetic changes limited to the grille, parking lamps and taillight lenses, the Amby wasn’t going to go for long. Any last hopes of revival, on the lines of Fiat 500, Volkswagen Beetle or our very own Royal Enfield Bullet, bit the dust when HM announced suspension of production at its factory outside Kolkata a couple of weeks back owing to weakening demand and growing financial problems. Though not officially disclosed, we believe that this is the final nail in the coffin for the much-loved but equally-outdated Ambassador. The grand lady has aged and, for heaven's sake, let's hope that HM lets her rest in peace!

Gleaming in white with contrasting dark tints, armed with crash-guards front and rear, with a swirling flashlight on top, the Ambassador evoked authority and respect like no other. That it was the vehicle of choice for Indian bureaucrats until a few years back isn't surprising.Maruti 800 did all that the Ambassador did and probably more, just that it took a completely different approach to do so. That the 800 accomplished the feat three decades later probably signals the shift in needs and preferences of the Indian market.

Based on the Suzuki Fronte SS80 of Japan, Maruti 800 came in as a whiff of fresh air when it was launched in 1983. Those were the days when all that a prospective buyer had to do was to zero in on either the Premier Padmini or the Hindustan Ambassador that, by then, had become outdated, bulky and slow. Ah, how times change. Modern, light, frugal and more importantly cheaper, Maruti 800 soon became the best-selling car in India. It held onto the top spot until 2004 when its newer sibling Alto leapfrogged it. Though Maruti-Suzuki kept the 800 going with no major upgrades, it continues to rule the Indian market in one form or the other. In fact, multiple generations of the car existed simultaneously in India for some time and, remarkably, each one of them sold well. What should have been successive generations of the 800 became popular in India as Zen, Alto and now Alto 800. With a production run that lasted more than three decades and cumulative sales that exceeded 2.7 million units, the Maruti 800 literally put India on wheels. On 18-January-2014, the last Maruti 800 rolled off the production line, leaving behind a legacy.

Having survived widespread rumors of getting axed in 2012, Maruti 800 finally drove into sunset this time around. We were quite vocal about our feelings for this little car then and even drove a beautifully-maintained 1984 model to mark its end in our own way.

For hundreds of Indian families, the Ambassador or the 800 were the first car they had owned. Thousands of those who hold a driving license today probably learnt driving in one of these two cars. With the curtains down on such iconic, cult models, an era in the Indian automotive industry has definitely come to an end.


Google unveils its own 'driverless' car, surprises with a live demo too!

At Anything On Wheels, we always classify people into two types, one that consider cars as mere modes of transport and the other that can’t resist grinning from ear to ear every time an opportunity to sit behind the wheel presents itself. Unfortunately, whichever group you classify yourself into, the reality is that driving in cities has become a chore these days. You might even be piloting a Porsche 911 but what’s the fun in being stuck for hours in a traffic congestion that leaves you scratching your head? That’s why, when Google announced that it is working on driverless cars, we were all ears! Though a handful of mainstream automotive manufacturers have tried their hands at driverless cars before, when it comes from the world’s leading tech giant, we better pay attention.

Weeks, months and years passed and all we heard about Google’s progress in this project were several instances of mainstream cars fitted with weird equipments being tested, often in locations out of sight of the general public. While we just about started shaking this thing off our brains, Google sprung a surprise last week when it unveiled its own ‘driverless’ car. Yup, that’s right. Not content with making all of us hyper-dependent on its search engine, Google built a car on its own albeit without a steering wheel, an accelerator, a brake pedal and the creature comforts. 

Now, stop screaming “What constituted the car then?” and scroll down.

A cute toy-like thing with four wheels, one at each end, is what this car actually is. Visualize our very own Tata Nano, this isn’t far off! It’s just that this Google thing is a whole lot cuter. It has two seats, space to accommodate passengers’ belongings, buttons to start and stop and a screen that shows the route inside. Of course, Google has loaded it with software, complex integrated circuits, a host of sensors and navigation equipment that ensures that this car can drive all by itself. With a restricted top speed of 25 mph, Google claims that the sensors in the car can remove blind spots and ‘see’ objects in all directions as far as two football fields away.

Doesn't that sound better than a human-being behind the wheel that can only ‘see’ ahead but has to rely on mirrors to know what’s behind?

Check out this cool video that Google has uploaded in YouTube.

Will you or one of us be able to buy one? No. Atleast, not now! About a hundred of these prototypes with purpose-built manual controls would be built to primarily be tested by Google’s safety drivers. If that’s successful, a small pilot program would be run in California, the hotspot of technology. And, if the tech develops and evolves as Google hopes it would, we might see a few of these on road. Now, that’s a lot of ‘if’s before we could see one on road for sure.

Chances are, if you aren’t working for Google and if you weren’t one of the lucky few that were part of the live demo last week, you might not stumble upon this car ever, like us! Sigh!!!