KOLKATA: The takeover of India’s heritage car brand Ambassador by Peugeot will help the French automaker leverage the instant familiarity to enter the crowded Indian market, feel advertising gurus and auto honchos. The association between Ambassador and Peugeot though dates back a decade and a half.
In a 2002 commercial for the Peugeot 206, titled ‘The Sculptor’ made by Euro RSCG Milan, an Indian mechanicdesigner is seen bashing up an Ambassador and even getting an elephant to sit on the bonnet to reshape it into his dream car that is strikingly similar to the Peugeot 206. The message of the commercial was that Peugeot is the brand for young In dian men who are aspiring to own a status symbol such as a foreign-made car. As a brand, Peugeot was positioning itself as a trend setter for young aspirational Indians. The commercial set in India even had a Hindi background score. Auto customizer Dilip Chhabria, who created the first prototype of Aston Martin Vanquish which appeared in the James Bond flick ‘Die Another Day’ as well as the Ambierod inspired by the Ambassador, has no doubts that the ad’s stupendous success – it was declared the most innovative auto ad – prompted Peugeot to pick up Ambassador as it readies to enter the Indian market.
“I think it is a fantastically brilliant move by any auto maker that has entered India. Peugeot may be arriving here two decades late and in a very crowded market but if it re-engineers the Ambassador and packages it in a manner that it becomes a contemporary car while retaining the design DNA, it will have a best-seller on its hand,” the auto designer said.
In a market dominated by me-too products, Chhabria is confident a differentiated Ambassador, minus the problems that the old car had, will be a winner.
“If Hindustan Motors had kept evolving the product and made it contemporary, it would have remained the best-selling company. I will willing to pay up to Rs 50 lakh for the Peugeot Ambassador,” he said. Advertising professional Ram Ray, who owned an Ambassador like many Indians in the 1960s and 1970s, feels if any company has the capability, it is Peugeot. After all, the French company shares the boxy look in many of its cars.
“Peugeot is not known for sporty-looking cars. It is not a happening brand like rival French firm Renault. It has solid mechanicals and is utilitarian. Perhaps, that is where it sees value in Ambassador,” said Ray.
Ad guru Harish Bijoor of Consults Inc felt Peugeot had made a smart move by snapping up a valuable brand that dominated the imagery of the country while it was still developing. “It is the old made-in-India brand that came decades before PM Narendra Modi’s make-in-India campaign. Ambassador, along with Amul and Tata, represented the Made-in-India image. Consumers have a lot of passion for these brands that established themselves as India was growing up,” he said. A top auto industry executive and a car designer said the French carmaker had the opportunity and the ability to leverage not just the brand, but what it represented. “The reference to Ambassador conjures up an image of retro design and sturdy car. Since retro is in at the moment, Peugeot can use it to do what BMW has done with British car Mini. There could be a Peugeot Ambassador that is cosmetically retro, but fundamentally a modern car,” the executive said.
While opinion is varied on values that brand Ambassador represents and its ruboff on the car that Peugeot introduces, there is unanimity over the strong brand recall even years after the car disappeared from many Indian cities. Kolkata, the only metro where Ambys -most of them yellow metered cabs -are still seen in large numbers, will be glad at the iconic brand’s French r-evolution.
A day after selling the Ambassador brand and trademark to PSA Group, the French car major that manufactures Peugeot, Hindustan Motors on Saturday told TOI that it is trying to revive operations at the Uttarpara plant of the company, the only asset left with the oldest automobile company in India. “We continue to look for avenues to revive manufacturing at Hindustan Motors. The sale of the brand Ambassador is done with a view to settle dues of employees and lenders in order to reduce the company’s liability. The PSA Group’s discussions with Hindustan Motors were limited to the sale of the brand Ambassador,” a spokesperson said.