The demise of the motor show is greatly exaggerated. At the same time, it’s critical for the Auto Expo to evolve to reflect new realities.
Auto shows. What’s not to like? A geographic concentration of a wild, staggering variety of machines, on wheels two, three, four, and more. All nicely glossed up and lit up brightly under show lights. Mighty executives straddling the stage, drawing attention towards their products, services and future plans. The buzz of activity behind the scenes. A tight roster of press events and announcements. Pre-show teaser images transformed into physical objects. Wild and not-so-wild concepts competing with production machines. Well-thought out pavilion architecture design putting across the corporate and product messaging. New technologies on display. Passion, hard work, enthusiasm, and – despite lousy economic sentiments – there is optimism. And then, there are the people…
You guessed right, I’m talking about the Auto Expo 2020, which seemed doomed right from last year. Many manufacturers stayed away. Others who had things to say and products to launch had their own independent press events before and after the Expo – stinting on costs, but not on the messaging. Then came the Coronavirus scare, with the much-vaunted Chinese presence watered down a bit. People wearing masks all round, hand sanitizers everywhere and encouragements of fist-bumps instead of handshakes. Okay, so Auto Expo 2020 was not a full house or a show of strength by the Indian automotive industry, but being there felt nice.
Around the same time as the Expo, the news from Germany was that the IAA was not going to take place at Frankfurt. It was not that shutters were being downed at the most significant auto show in the world, it’s just that it was shifting elsewhere in Germany, perhaps Munich, perhaps Berlin. So now, obviously, questions are being asked regarding the relevance of auto shows – why go through such enormous cost, time and effort for all this smoke-and-mirror drama? Where’s the cost benefit in participating in an auto show? When IC-engined machines are transforming into cell-phones-on-wheels, what’s the point of doing this whole circus? When kids are looking at shared mobility instead of getting all excited about buying new cars and bikes, what’s the relevance of all this brand building? And so on and so forth.
It’s true that auto shows have to evolve with the times, just like the machines that they are showcasing. Automakers are smart enough to participate in events like CES at Las Vegas and Mobile World Congress at Barcelona because they think that there’s a good catchment area of future consumers at these places. So why should motor shows remain old-fashioned and traditional? At the same time, when Reliance Jio and Facebook are participating in a traditional motor show, surely they too have compelling reasons for the same. It seems pretty obvious to me that there is some kind of alignment over here. The Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM), Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and Automotive Component Manufacturers Association (ACMA) – the three organisers of the Auto Expo – need to act well in time for Auto Expo 2022. To me, it looks like they will have to start talking with all the social media giants right away.
That’s not all. Having an alternate venue for component and accessories makers takes away from the whole experience – it’s like keeping your non-glamorous relatives away from the party you’re throwing. If automakers have to attract and retain new fans, they need to show that beauty is more than skin-deep. Besides, one consolidated show twice a year doesn’t seem enough – we need an Auto Expo in the West or South every odd year – India is a big country with millions of auto enthusiasts.
Finally, it’s important to remember a critical thing about all these shows – they are about people too, not only shiny new products. The Auto Expo is a geographic concentration of a wild, staggering variety of people too, united by their passion for the automotive business. In the noise that’s drummed up by launches, product unveils and technology briefings, it’s easy to forget that these motor shows are about people who are part of the entire automotive ecosystem. Even if you have no product to show, isn’t it a great opportunity for OEMs to directly meet human beings interested in their products? The organisers would do well to remember this so that they encourage more interactions – whether formal or informal – where there could be a free flow of ideas and thoughts that encourage younger audiences to have a stake in the business for the future.
Srinivas Krishnan writes about classic and vintage cars for various publications. He is the former Editor of Business Standard Motoring & former Head of Press, Porsche India.
Here's our extensive coverage from the recently concluded Auto Expo - Special Coverage: 2020 Auto Expo