With Citroen now holding the rights to the Ambassador name, the iconic nameplate could make a comeback in a more premium modern avatar
My memories of the Hindustan Ambassador are either of my Dad’s official car or my grandfather’s fleet of taxis. And like me, most millennials relate to the Ambassador in a similar fashion. Present in the country since 1958, the Amby had its own reign on Indian roads and was particularly known for its couch-like seats and impeccable ride comfort. In 2017, Peugeot (part of the PSA group which also holds Citroen) acquired the Ambassador nameplate from the C K Birla Group-owned Hindustan Motors (who are also the current partners of Citroen in India) in a deal reported to be worth Rs 80 crores. And if the two names together spark some circuits in your brain, it's because of the ‘The Sculptor’ commercial in which an Indian boy transforms the Ambassador into the Peugeot 206, was possibly one of the greatest car advertisements ever made.
But reviving the iconic nameplate could be a risky manoeuvre. You see, the Ambassador was never given a rightful upgrade and it severely lacked safety and convenience features. This made it a little too long in the tooth and over time, the image of the ‘Landmaster’ was left painted in either white or a black and yellow. Today, while there is a lot of heritage associated with the name, no one really considers the Ambassador to be a premium car. But given the right avatar, Citroen could have a big nostalgia card on their hands.
Speaking of the avatar, the modern-day interpretation of the Ambassador has to be an executive sedan. The key traits of the Ambassador were its sturdy metal body, the cabin space with its couch-like bench seats, and its ability to gobble up potholes. And given that Comfort is one of the three key principles ( ‘C Cubed:’ Cool, Comfort and Clever) of the Citroen brand, a spacious sedan with a focus on passenger convenience and ride quality could be the ideal blend for the new Amby.
In India, Citroen plans to start off their innings with the C5 Aircross in 2020 as their flagship, after which it will launch smaller cars with up to 90 per cent localisation from 2021 onwards. If the Amby is indeed to make a return, it will only happen once the brand starts its manufacturing in the country. Given that the C5 Aircross could be priced close to Rs 20 lakh, the Ambassador will be priced under it.
Before retiring, the Ambassador’s last hurrah was the BSIV-compliant Encore which was launched back in September 2013. Priced at Rs 4.97 lakh (ex-showroom, Kolkata), the car was powered by a 1.5-litre diesel engine and was to be sold as a commercial vehicle. While we know that Citroen’s Ambassador will not be priced similarly, we do hope that the brand keeps it affordable enough for most buyers who associate with the name. Earlier, there were rumours that the PSA group was also planning to launch the Ambassador as an all-electric sub-brand. And if that indeed happens, the prices could shoot up significantly.
The Ambassador in today’s age is largely recognised as a ‘sarkari gaadi’ or a taxi. This could be challenging to Citroen, as by the time they plan to launch the Ambassador (which is still a few years away), the millennial buyer might not associate with the brand or not identify it as a premium or aspirational car. A similar situation was faced by Hyundai recently when they re-launched the Santro nameplate in the country. Newer buyers had a hard time justifying the price premium whereas people who had a connection to the name found the new car difficult to relate to.
Citroen, though, being a premium brand, should not face this issue and deliver an Ambassador which we, as well as the rest of the Amby enthusiasts of the country, are looking forward to.