Farewell To Mumbai’s Premier Padmini

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MUMBAI, Apr. 20 – The ubiquitous Premier Padmini, the tiny black taxi derived from the 1957 Fiat 1200, is to be phased out.

The Bombay High Court ruled last week that taxis over 25 years old must be taken off the road by the end of the year. The ruling comes a year later than what was originally planned after petitions from taxi drivers.

The Premier Padmini was manufactured in India from 1968 until 2000 by India’s Premier Automobiles. Fiat had decommissioned the car after only three years, with Italian production ceasing in 1960. The entire production line was shipped to India in 1967, with production based at Kurla, Mumbai.

The car, which originally had a 1,089cc engine, has undergone changes since making its debut in India but maintained the basic design. Most Premier Padmini taxis on the road now are run with compressed natural gas or CNG which is a cleaner and cheaper fuel compared to petrol and is also subsidized by the Indian government as part of its anti-pollution measures.

The new taxis will likely be provided by Tata Motors and Maruti Suzuki, whose car for taxi use have already begun appearing on Mumbai’s crowded streets. Although fitted with air conditioning and CD players, the new models are certainly a more comfortable ride, but lack the charm of the now 50-year Fiat model.

To encourage the shift to new taxis, Tata and Maruti will provide an additional 10,000 new vehicles each over the next three months discounted by up to US$800 or close to 10 percent of the original price. The government has also accelerated the procedure by arranging lines of credit for purchase of new vehicles by taxi drivers at longer periods and with 2 percent to 3 percent lower rates than what the market currently provides to stimulate demand.

To further enforce compliance, the government issued orders to the Mahanagar Gas Company, which provides CNG-powered vehicles with fuel at Mumbai’s pump stations, to refuse selling gas to old vehicles.

The Premier Padmini while outdated and cramped, its passing will be mourned as it had become an iconic symbol of the city. The ruling mirrors that of the phasing out of the its counterpart in Delhi, the Hindustan Ambassador, based in turn on the 1948 Morris Oxford and still used as the official government vehicle.