IS this the end of the road for the Ambassador, that 'ugly dumpling' mainstay of Indians, much-loved despite its obsolete technology? The car that Indian prime ministers ride in, but also the car exported to England as a funny 1950s-vintage curio item? Decades of indifferent management and irresponsible labour have combined to leave a cloud of uncertainty over the plant at Uttarpara near Calcutta, where Hindustan Motors (HM) manufactures the old warhorse.
Hundreds of unsold Ambassadors gather dust in a field opposite the company's office, while demoralised workers mill around, unsure of their fate. The flagship company of the G.P. Birla-C.K. Birla group is in big trouble. The pincer of demand recession and cut-throat competition has choked the Uttarpara unit. The managements efforts to cut costs by reducing the workforce of 11,000 to 3,000 have hit a solid wall. Its voluntary retirement scheme (VRS) has been rejected outright by the unions. Its subsequent proposal to reduce the six-day workweek to three days has not been sanctioned by the West Bengal government. Its impasse, with the clock ticking away.