On 14th December 1983, Indira Gandhi (then Prime Minister) gave the keys of the first Maruti 800 to Harpal Singh – an Indian Airlines employee. It was brought for Rs. 47,500 and Singh kept it with himself till he passed away 27 years later. It was never sold or upgraded which speaks a lot about the car’s durability.
Maruti 800 was a result of a joint venture between Maruti Udyog Ltd. and Suzuki Motors who collaborated to create India’s most ubiquitous car. As soon as it was announced, around 1,20,000 people booked it and some deliveries took 3 years to make. Initially, it was a huge status symbol for the Indian middle class and had a 800 cc engine. It came with a monocoque body and was the first made-in-India car to get disc brakes, floorshift gears, front-wheel drive, plastic moulded dashboard and bucket seats.
The dream run for Maruti ended in 2010 when they had to gradually stop producing the car to comply with the government’s stricter emission norms. In 2013, the production was completely stopped. Its 30 year run is the longest for any car in the world.
Out of the 2.87 million Maruti 800s manufactured, 2.66 million were sold in India itself. A lot of people claim that it was their first car including the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Imtiaz Ali and Manmohan Singh.
The car changed the fortunes of several people and one of them was Surinder Kapur, chairman and managing director of Sona Group. He passed away in 2015 but not before building a great empire. His organization supplied steering systems to Maruti for just Rs. 7 crore revenue per year initially. By 2014, Sona Group were selling components worth Rs. 4,300 crore and employed 7,500 people worldwide.
In an interview with Livemint, Kapur had said, “All of this did not happen overnight. Maruti 800 was a reason why we have a strong component industry at the moment. More than quantity, what we learnt during the process of producing Maruti was world-class quality. It not only introduced systems such as TQM (total quality management), etc., but also made us focus on localization and upgradation of machinery, etc.”
There’s an interesting story behind how Maruti and Suzuki came together. When the Indian Government proposed a partnership with Suzuki, the offer was rejected because the letter did not reach the top management. Co-incidentally, the Suzuki MD was travelling by an aircraft and he was reading the newspaper. He found out that Suzuki had rejected the Indian Government’s offer and was shocked. He immediately called the concerned officials and struck a deal worth Rs. 21 crores ($20.8 million) back then.
One of the things that worked in Maruti 800’s favour was how easy it was to maintain it. Compared to other cars in that era, this car was extremely durable. There were also finance schemes launched which worked well with middle class Indians who could get their hands at a car with a small down payment.
After the production was stopped, Maruti Suzuki chairman R C Bhargava said, “We have stopped production of the M800. There were issues related to saleability and acceptability of the product because of safety and emission regulations that are to come in soon. It is a dated model and has been selling for a long time. We had already decided we would not invest to upgrade the M800 to meet BS-IV emission norms. We, therefore, decided to discontinue the product.”
Personally, I remember Maruti 800 as the first car I remember taking a drive in. We were visiting an uncle’s place in Patna and he gave us a tour of the city. Even though I didn’t own it, a lot of my friends did and I found it extremely comfortable.
It is no secret that cars have become much more comfortable and advanced these days. They have better safety standards and efficient aerodynamics. Even with all those features, it’ll be difficult for any car to reach the cult and iconic status achieved by Maruti 800.