Adil Jal Darukhanawala
tiny car, but a towering national presence. Indian motoring history reached its fabled inflexion point on a wintry December morning in 1983 when a Best cars to own and drive |
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tiny car was rolled out of a factory in Gurgaon. Indian roads have never been the same ever since. With virtually 90% of the world's biggest automobile brands already plying their trade on Indian roads today, Sunday (December 14) marks an important milestone in India's automotive history.
Tomorrow is the 25th anniversary of Maruti 800, a car that literally put Indians on an automotive diet, which continues unabated as the first, true-blue , Indian people's car. Call it a cultural icon, a social symbol, or even a national emblem of sorts, the Maruti 800 has remained a mainstay of personal mobility for the masses. Its ownership transcended class and economic barriers, and its story goes way beyond mere numbers.
Speaking of which, time for some quantitative perspective. In its 25-year life, Maruti Udyog has produced 27,36,046 units of the 800, of which exports accounted for 1,92,914 units. What it means is that Maruti rolled out an impressive number of 800s every year - over 100,000 units per year on an average - for which any car maker would be willing donate an arm and a leg.
What is truly impressive about these figures is that the 800 came in at a time when the Indian automotive output stood at close to 40,000 units per annum. Within a year of its launch, the industry nearly doubled and, thereafter, kept at it for a few more years. In certain cases, the market also happened to favour the competition solely because MUL was unable to keep production to match with pent up demand! Rarely has the automotive world seen such a scenario play out, on such a large scale.
In the 25 years that the Maruti 800 has been in production, it has had just two model changes. The very first ran from inception in 1983 till 1997, when the present day car was introduced. The engine capacity has remained the same at 796cc. But, what's amazing is the fact that Maruti and Suzuki offered a single overhead camshaft engine when everybody else had push-rod actuated overhead valves; even newer rivals like Ford, who came in the early 1990s, had archaic technology. Constant technological upgradation of components not only helped masses of car buyers freak out with fuel-efficient, zippy and very reliable Suzukis, the Indian component industry got a massive shot in the arms as MUL's localisation juggernaut rolled along.
While the Hindustan Motors's Ambassador may be older and have the longest production run of any Indian automobile to date, the tiny 800 not only set Best cars to own and drive |
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Indians on the move, it also spawned a whole new culture. At the time of its advent, the 800 commanded a premium twice that of its list price. It came with a top-end luxury model with full leather interiors and it was not out of place to see chauffeur-manned 800s driving "sahibs to work".
From a human psychological perspective, it suddenly made 800 buyers as owners of their own destinies - an option which they could never exercise with the three-pointed star, given its unobtanium pricing then. For Maruti and Suzuki, it laid the foundation of a giant in the Indian automotive sphere, the tiny 800 spurring on no less than 12 distinctly different models in the last quarter century.
So, today if you revel in the joys of a SX4 with tyre-shredding performance or indulge in the cut-and-dash of city traffic in a Swift, or you want to experience small car motoring updated to 2009 norms with an A-Star , you know that it all began with a small tiny hatchback in 1983. Should you like to revisit it, the 800 is yet on sale to this day, technically updated as per legislation and as relevant today as it was in a December 25 winters ago.
The writer is editor-in-chief – Times Zigwheels