Is the Auto Expo dying?

17 Oct,2019


By Avik Chattopadhyay


Having spent a couple of decades in the automobile industry, the Auto Expo has been one event I have always looked forward to. Since 1993, I have visited every single expo, as a proud member of the automobile fraternity and as an Indian. It is truly one of the few world-class expositions in our country, bringing in the best, brightest and most reputed from across the world. I cannot forget Porsche participating way back in 1993. Or the Hyundai Santro launch. Or that of the Bajaj Pulsar. Can one forget the world waiting with bated breath for the unveiling of the Tata Nano in 2008?


The narrative today about the Auto Expo actually pains me. It is largely negative, focusing on the automakers who choose not to participate in an edition. People only fussing over the symptoms without a bother on the suggested treatment.


The ‘motorshow’ as a concept is at the crossroads. The traditional one is a dinosaur, now surviving only as a closed platform for the big bosses of the automakers to satisfy their personal egos, pamper some journos and use it for personal networking. Any consumer event has to fundamentally be clear of what the consumer wants and behaves like.


Twenty years back, the consumer looked forward to a day out with the latest in automotive design and technology, the show providing that opportunity. Automakers used to plan their big announcements and unveilings accordingly. “Latest” and “first” were buzzwords. The consumer today any way has access to all information and reviews online and does not look forward to spending a day with ‘old’ news. And the automakers have their own product portfolio calendars to follow, choosing to have ‘stand-alone’ moments of limelight. The show has lost the buzzwords. There seems no novelty and flaunt value.


The organisers of the show in Detroit are close to shutting it down. Paris and Tokyo are holding on to “national pride” and putting up a brave face. Geneva, already small, is scaling down. And Frankfurt this year saw a lively debate on its future. Some small ones have shut shop and nobody misses them. Quite a few automakers have chosen other platforms like CES to ‘connect’ better.


So, where goes the Auto Expo? Does it deserve to continue or will die a painful death?


In the midst of all the debate and prophecies on the future of the motor show, the Auto Expo has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take the bull by the horns and create a new paradigm on what the motor show of tomorrow should be. Yes, the Indian automobile industry and its policy body SIAM can actually take up this challenge and become a pioneer.


So, what will it take to rebuild the relevance of the expo? Five key things:


First, it’s about mobility and not just about motors.

Tomorrow’s world will be not about just metal, glass and rubber. It will be not about just the products anymore. The traditional way of positioning the show as having “x” number of launches and unveils will have to give way to “z” number of tech showcases. It will be all about mobility and not simply the motors that form only the core but not the entire ecosystem. This contains multi-modal travel, entertainment, sharing, platooning, lifestyle and all types of ‘phygitial’ customer touchpoints. It will be more about safety, cleanliness, responsibility and sustainability than just speed and torque and number of cylinders. It will be all about greater immersive experiences rather than just the act of clicking selfies with motors and some celebrities.


More so, the organisers are right now at the mercy of the automakers participating to ensure the show’s ‘success’. Right now, they are wasting time answering journalists about who all has pulled out of the show than invest it in ensuring better qualitative participation. Automakers take the excuse of “not having anything new to display” for not participating. Another favourite excuse of theirs is that the “cost is too high” forgetting that only around 15-20% of their total spend is actually on space rental and services. Getting huge teams of designers and fabricators from the headquarter locations to construct their pavilions does not help their cause one bit.


Second, needs to expand the scope of participants.

Logical, is it not, if it is to be about mobility. The participants have to be beyond just the automakers. There have to be technology brands like Microsoft, IBM, Google and Apple. There need to be solution providers like Ola, Uber and Zoomcar. There need to be public transport providers like Delhi Metro, DTC and BEST. There need to be navigation services like Map My India and Garmin. There need to be infotainment providers like Airtel, Jio and Amazon Prime. There need to be social media influencers like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. The list can just go on and on…as long as I have driven home this point.


Third, needs to bring in more ‘organisers’.

Of course, as only SIAM, CII and ACMA do not have the wherewithal to bring in all the big brands mentioned above. Organisations like NASSCOM have to be brought in. Even international bodies like JAMA and ACEA have to be active organisers to ensure the required levels of participation. Ministries of consumer affairs, electronics and technology have to be involved with all support.


Fourth, it needs to cater to the ‘mobile’ Indian.

This is a key disruption needed to evolve the show from its current largely-physical manifestation. While the organisers take pride in having close to 600,000 visitors over just six days of the show, it has to cater to ten times that number, right across the country and the world. And this can be done only digitally…when you re-create the Auto Expo as a virtual show on mobile or tablet or laptop screens for those to enjoy who cannot physically visit. No motorshow in the world has done this as yet [though the Tokyo show does have its share of VR]. Being the land of the software-geek, the Auto Expo should certainly take this up and set a new benchmark.


Fifth, it needs consistent support and funding.

The show’s scope and scale should not be limited to only what budgets the automakers who participate have. This is India’s showcase to the world. It is larger than life. It needs financial support from the ministries and all allied industries. Only then will the show be able to create relevance that is credible, demonstrable and sustainable.


In fact, it should not be called “Auto Expo – the motor show” anymore. That is the past. It is the “India Mobility Expo”.

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