If you lived in the 1950s in India and wanted to buy a car, you’d have a choice of a Fiat, Skoda, Buick, Oldsmobile, even a Ford or two, and many others. Some of these brands may sound familiar to us today but way back then, these cars were imported into India.
India was not a car manufacturing country. Cars were expensive, a luxury: an Oldsmobile saloon would set you back by Rs 13,500, the Morris Minor Saloon would cost you in the region of Rs 8,000, and a Lambretta 150 cc scooter, Rs 1,600, a pretty sum for the average Indian family. If you undertook long journeys at all, it was by train. In rural India, people just walked or took bullock carts.
India was then and is still an agricultural country where tens of thousands live off the land. There was no public transport in existence as we know it today. However, a south-based company ran a bus service where the vehicle used was apparently equipped with heavy-duty magnets underneath that would pick up nails and bits of horseshoe, left behind by horses and bullocks along the route, in an attempt to reduce delays due to punctures – a jugaad of sorts!
So, as we celebrate the 75th year of its Independence, we can all be proud of the fact that India has one of the most dynamic automotive sectors in the world. Some of the brands that Indians in the 1950s could only admire in the showroom can now be bought, on convenient terms for finance; some of the big luxury brands can be imported and for which top-class service is available here in India with technicians and mechanics trained abroad. Every global brand can write a chapter in its history that pertains to its India connection.
If the early days of the auto sector had its challenges, these continue to this day, and the industry has weathered the Lehman crisis and the Covid, and upgraded to world standards in terms of safety and emission norms. It’s an industry that has hitched its wagon to the stars. Indian engineers work on global projects, India-made cars, buses and two-wheelers are exported to various parts of the world including Latin America and New Zealand. There is arguably some Indian input from idea to part, to software in global auto products. It’s a sector that all Indians can be proud of. An automotive job is a passport to a top-class career with an opportunity to be trained abroad.
In its 75th issue available online from tomorrow, Autocar Professional takes a look at the fascinating story of India’s auto sector. India was a young country in 1947, keen to make an impact on the world stage even as it aimed to lift millions out of poverty. Ambitious young men with dreams of making it big tried to make cars, and these early pioneers admitted that they did not have a clue as to how to go about it. The automotive arena was pretty much the Wild West.
In this issue, we tell you the story of India’s automotive tryst with destiny from the pioneering days when the seeds of growth were planted to the roaring 1908s and on to the 1990s when India and the automotive sector opened up to the world, and hasn’t looked back then. The grit and determination of those early pioneers continue to be inspiring even today.
And since this is an Independence day issue, it might be worth mentioning that Pandit Nehru’s favourite car was a Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith, and the father of the nation occasionally may have hitched a ride in a Packard 120 reportedly owned by the industrialist G D Birla in those days.