A trail-blazer

The announcement by the Maruti Suzuki management that it has stopped production of its basic 800 model marks the end of an era for India’s automobile industry.

Maruti 800 had become an iconic brand in the country and had contributed to a major change in the very idea of travel for millions in India.  When it was introduced in the country in 1983 and in the decades since then it brought down cars from the realm of luxury to within the reach of large numbers of people. It symbolised the aspirations and achievements of a rising middle class. These aspirations, which are bigger now, may have overtaken the small car over the years, and there are many other choices on the road to ride the dreams on.

When the Maruti started moving out of its production lines in Gurgaon, the Ambassador, the Fiat and the Standard were ruling the roads. The new car introduced technologies and designs which were new to the country. It was relatively cheap, compact and suited the nuclear family that was emerging in the 1980s. In many ways it embodied the spirit of the times when small was seen as beautiful, individualism was breaking out of a socialist mould of thought and private enterprise was gaining in importance, foretelling the liberal turn of the early nineties. Maruti symbolised many of these social and economic changes and it is no wonder that it became the popular vehicle of a changing lifestyle. It also changed the servicing practices of the industry and gave a boost to the spare parts industry which is thriving now. The automobile industry as such also gained, and most of the world’s brands have a presence in the country now.

Maruti has gone much forward from its first car, with improved versions. Even after the last Maruti 800 has been produced many of its kind will be on the roads for some more years. They will be reminders of how an ordinary car changed the habits in the country. Revolutions often start as simple events and it has been so with the revolution brought about by the humble Maruti 800. Perceptions of distance and time are different after the car era gained speed. Of course new words like pollution also gained currency, but there is nothing without a price.

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