The Ford connection
At an Indo-U.S. business and public relations conference organised by the Public Relations Society of India, Madras chapter, last week to introduce a group of Business Management students from Midwest American University, Findlay, to India today, the audience was reminded that though Ford must today be one of the biggest American investors in the metropolitan Madras area, its presence here as a manufacturer is nothing new. As early as 1930, Ford’s was assembling trucks in Madras and then in Bombay as well.
Given the opportunity to stay on and play a pioneering role in the nascent automotive industry scene post-Independence, Ford’s, like General Motors in Bombay, said, “No, thank you”, not having any confidence in the Indian scene.
Ford’s Madras agents, George Oakes, then decided to take over the Ford assets in India and this included 300 CKD packs for 199” wheelbase Ford trucks. With George Oakes having no assembly facilities, its fellow Amalgamations Group institution, Addison’s, took on the job and was kept busy for two years assembling Ford trucks in Conran Smith Road, off Mount Road. Meanwhile, George Oakes sought permission to assemble, then manufacture, a Ford model — the Popular — but neither Ford’s nor the Government was willing to offer the necessary support.
Then, in 1963, Amalgamations got a licence to assemble Ford trucks, but with Government and Ford’s having rather divergent ideas on how much equity Ford should have in the project, Ford backed out.
In 1979, Amalgamations sought revalidation of the 1963 licence and Government agreed to grant it to another of its companies, Simpson’s. Seven thousand vehicles was the annual target for 1979 and 1980 and 12,000 thereafter, but all with a minimum 40 per cent indigenous content. With Simpson’s manufacturing Perkins engines, AMCO providing batteries, and many other components available in India by this time, indigenisation was not a problem. Nor was raising the factory in Tirumazhisai, just west of Madras on the Bangalore Road, or ensuring quality, a problem, with an old Ford hand, George Withell, no stranger to Madras. But the cost of Ford CKD packs, high customs duties, and a market recession killed the project after the first vehicles had rolled out in 1980.
And so ended Ford’s manufacturing forays into India in the early days of the country’s automotive industry. The new Millennium brought Ford back — and to a brighter future — but when the new roots were being sunk, no one at Ford remembered the 1930s, 40s and 80s when it had toiled in Madras.
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