Indian classic cars owners and collectors don’t view their cars just as a mode of transportation but as an emotion. In many cases, the cars have been pristinely maintained although it has been passed down generations, and may still be functional years after production.
“Once, a son spent months in search of a car owned by his father and got it back, years after the family sold it. There are sons who devotedly maintain their father's Ambassador, even though they are rich enough to buy the latest cars. There are women who ride Premier Padmini in remembrance of their husbands,” says Joy Chavakkad, a member of the Ambassador Car Fans South India association.
But these car owners are now in a fix due to the proposed scrappage policy, which has been in the works for a long time. As per the proposal, vehicles older than 15 years will be taken to scrap yards, stripped down, and whatever can be recycled, will be.
“Under the new scrappage policy, old cars, trucks and buses will be scrapped,” Nitin Gadkari, the Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways, said in May. He said that the material recycled will be useful for the automobile industry as it will reduce the cost of manufacturing cars, buses, and trucks, thus increasing India's competitiveness in international markets.
However, there is no clarity on when the policy will come into effect or what are the specifics of the policy, including the definition of End of Life Vehicles, which indicates the vehicle is no longer usable and can be harmful to the environment. In the absence of this clarity, Indian classic car owners are worried.
Many, like Joy Chavakkad, who owns three Ambassador cars in Kerala, want to keep these cars. "As a child, I grew up with the income my father earned by driving this car. Like me, many who own ambassador cars are emotionally attached to it," he said.
The memebers of Ambassador Car Fans South India Association sent a petition to the Prime Minister of India and the Union Minister in early June, asking for Ambassador cars to be exempted from the policy.
"We are a group of 200 members and most of them own more than one Ambassador car. We keep these cars in pristine condition and would like to keep these machines running in good condition for the coming years too. The Ambassador cars were once used by various government departments and even the yesteryear presidents and prime ministers of our country as their official vehicles,” said Joy, adding that these cars are an inextricable component of the owners’ lives.
The classic cars by Premier Automobiles — Premier Padmini S1, 137D, President, Fiat1100 and 118NE — also have fan groups across the country.
Mehul H Kuruwa, a representative of the Premier Padmini Car Lovers’ Association, said that they are waiting for more clarity on the policy.
“We need more details on the policy. For the last two years, we have been talking about the policy. We are ready to protest if this is going to affect us," said Mehul, adding, “Since my childhood, a car meant the Premier Padmini. Even now, no new car could replace the unique structure of this classic car. We are emotionally attached to the car.”
Shinto Varghese, Ernakulam unit president of the group, KeralaFiat Classic Club said, “I go on long trips in my Premier Padmini. People think that these old cars are not usable, but they are the best. We are not sure about the policy, but there are discussions, where all its members are expressing their concerns about the registration charges and scrapping," he said.
However, sources from team BHP, India's largest community of motor enthusiasts, told TNM that the policy may not affect the antique, vintage or classic cars. If such cars satisfy the prescribed norms under the Motor Vehicles Act, they will be allowed to ply on roads for exhibitions, rallies and maintenance.
In 2017, the National Green Tribunal in New Delhi said that vintage cars will be permanently exempted from the policy and could be used for exhibitions, rallies and for maintenance, and not otherwise. But, it also stated that these owners must contribute to conserving the environment by planting trees and providing dustbins.
Since the Ambassador and Premier Padmini do not come under the vintage or antique category the owners are worried. While cars that are 20-40 years old are classified as classic cars, antique cars are at least 45 years old and vintage cars should be manufactured between 1919 and 1930. The production of Ambassador cars started in 1958, while Premier Padmini came into production in 1964.
According to sources, if the scrappage policy is not applicable to these classic cars, the owners and collectors will stare at another problem: the registration renewal fee for classic cars will be extremely high or hiked by 25 times. The policy proposed renewal of fitness certificates for 15-year-old vehicles every six months instead of one year.
The scrappage policy was also proposed to curb vehicular pollution, replacing Bharat Stage or BS4 emission vehicles that produce nitrogen oxide (NO) and particulate matter, with environment-friendly BS6 emission vehicles.
“These classic vehicles require documents that are needed for other vehicles. We get the pollution certificate and also renew the registration like any other vehicle. It is not illegal to use these vehicles," Joy added.