Wednesday, June 09, 2004

the beginning of the end?

The New Delhi government is entertaining a proposal to allow ministers to abandon their Hindustan Motors Ambassadors in favor of more modern cars, including the Ford Ikon, Maruti Baleno, Opel Corsa, Mahindra Scorpio and Mahindra Bolero, reports the Indian Express. Is this the beginning of the end for the beloved Amby--now on display in Washington's Smithsonian gallery?

Government officials claim the Ambassador is notoriously unreliable after a year-and-a-half of service--this despite the thousands of ancient Ambies working the hard intercity roads as taxis. If the Delhi government drops the old standby in favor of something flashier, will that make it cool for the rest of India's politicians to abandon the symbol of self-reliance in manufacturing? If so, that could be a killer for Hindustan Motors, which says 26-28 percent of its sales come through government orders.

To me, it would also be one more sign of the beginning of the end of India's repair, recycle, reuse philosophy. Every town, no matter how small, can dig up spare parts for the Amby, and every mechanic, no matter how rustic, can fix one. Maybe it's true that they're always breaking down, but it's also true that they're always getting fixed. Will we be able to say the same about the old workhorse's replacement? And I can't help feeling that India just won't be the same without them on the road--especially in Delhi. This is, after all, the city with only two traffic rules: every inch counts and white Ambassadors are the enemy.

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