History of Indian Auto Industry

History of Automotive Industry in India:

Part 1: The early beginning: 
While the country had started making steel towards the end of the nineteenth century, courtesy the great JN Tata, the automobiles were not assembled in India till much later.

It was in the year 1944, that Walchand Hirachand (the man behind Hindustan Aeronautics Limited)  set up Premier Automobiles limited (PAL) for automotive assembly operations with Dodge and De-Sotos rolling off the assembly lines in 1946 with technology borrowed from Chrysler US.

The renowned Industrialist BM Birla partnered with Lord Nuffield of Morris Motors to set up Hindustan Motors in 1942 for manufacturing auto components and entered the car business in 1948 by launching the UK designed Morris 10 which was rechristened the Hindustan 10 for India. The company initially operated out of a smaller assembly plant near port Okha in Gujarat but later shifted base to a sprawling industrial base in Uttarpara in Bengal which was heavily backward integrated in terms of component production for its own automobiles (the concept of Original Equipment Manufacturer(OEM) sourcing parts from various vendors was not an option then). The park consisted of foundry units, machining units, forging units and finally an assembly unit for the complete automobile.

The most important addition to the auto scene in the 40s was that of Mahindra and Mohammed (later Mahindra and Mahindra). The Mahindra Brothers, Kailash and Jagdish Chandra along with Ghulam Mohammad set up the company in 1945 to manufacture the Willys Overland Jeep of WWII lineage. This was a well thought out strategy as this would go on to become the only available rough terrain utility vehicle in the country. The first Indian made Jeep to roll out of the Mazagaon facility was the CJ3B in 1949 Originally fitted with the Hurricane F head Petrol engine churning out 72 HP, the 3 speed Jeep quickly went on to become a hot favorite with the govt agencies lapping it up in good numbers and almost ensuring a steady revenue stream for the the next forty-fifty years for the company. Post independence, Ghulam Mohammad migrated to Pakistan and went on to become the first Finance Minister of Pakistan. The company later changed its name to Mahindra and Mahindra (M&M) as we know it today.

The birth of today’s Ashok Leyland happened at around the same time albeit in a different name. Raghunandan Saran, a freedom fighter from Punjab set up ‘Ashok Motors’ near Chennai with the aim to assemble Austin cars from Britain. The first product to roll out of the factory in ‘Ennore’ near Chennai was the Austin A 40 which at that point of time was arguably the smallest car assembled  India. Raghunandan Saran later died in a plane crash and the company till the 80s was held by various share holders before being taken over by the Hinduja group with a majority controlling stake. Ashok Motors remained a producer of cars till the mid 50s post which the company focused on trucks as its mainstay. Interestingly two British Marquees operating in India, the Austin (through Ashok motors) and Morris (through HM) merged in the UK in 1952. This merger has produced interesting cars in the UK like the Austin A 40 Cambridge which would resemble the Ambassador Landmaster of its time. So UK at the time had a Landmaster by the name Austin A 40 which was also a Morris Oxford/Cowley at the same time and we say ‘Brand Engineering’ was invented by GM!

The last in the line was the relatively smaller and now defunct Standard Motor Products India Limited (SMPIL) which started off life in 1949 as a manufacturer of the ‘Vanguard’ saloon- a British product of the ‘Standard Triumph’ company. The company was set up in Perungulatoor in the outskirts of Chennai. The car was fitted with a 2.1 liter petrol engine and a 3 speed transmission.

More than being a British colony, what prompted the Indian Entrepreneurs to gravitate towards the British manufacturers was the simple fact that the country by then had adopted the RHD system and it was convenient to follow suit with more RHD cars than the inconvenient LHD ones. It may be worth noting that the American ‘as is’ products of the time, the Chryslers(sold as Dodge) and Jeeps were initially sold in its LHD guise and the venerable Jeep continued that way for a fairly long period of time.


  1. Why is there no mention of the Rolls Royce used by the Maharajas


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