NEW DELHI: India’s Maruti Suzuki said Saturday it had halted production of its iconic first small car, the Maruti 800, which revolutionized road transport for millions of Indians.
The boxy, four-seater hatchback — the first car ever owned by many Indian middle class families — was first manufactured in 1983 and more than 2.4 million have been sold since.
“We have stopped the M-800 (Maruti 800) production completely,” C.V. Raman, executive director Maruti Suzuki told reporters at India’s premier auto fair in the New Delhi suburb of Greater Noida that winds up Sunday.
The decision to phase out the Maruti 800, hailed as a triumph of small-car engineering at the time, was taken in 2010 to meet new auto emission standards aimed at cutting pollution on India’s increasingly congested roads.
The no-frills car has been eclipsed by newer, fancier models.
But even as the car drives into history, spare parts will be available for customers for eight to 10 years, a company spokesman said.
The car, costing 50,000 rupees ($803) when launched, is now priced at 235,000 rupees, according to a company website.
In 1981, when Maruti Udyog was formed as a state-run company, Indian drivers had just two options if they wanted to buy locally made cars — and often a five-year wait to get the keys.
Premier Automobiles produced cars with help from Italy’s Fiat, while Hindustan Motors made the bulky Ambassador. Both were private companies.
Prime minister Indira Gandhi gave Japan’s Suzuki the green light to pick up a stake in Maruti Udyog — an unprecedented move at a time when India’s economy was largely closed.
Suzuki’s stake has since grown from 26 percent to over 50 percent.
Since the Maruti 800, India’s car revolution has gathered pace, with total car sales running at close to two million units a year.
India is expected to become the world’s third-largest car market by 2020, according to industry estimates.
Maruti now produces a range of cars from hatchbacks to sedans.
Liberalization policies since the early 1990s spawned a rising middle class with higher incomes who also have become targets of foreign car companies which have driven into the country to propel global sales.
But Maruti still maintains its dominance of the Indian market, accounting for nearly one out of two new cars sold in India.