Why, pray, would someone who genuinely likes cars put down the Auto Expo? Because this is not the show it should be.
Until 2008, the Indian automotive industry was still growing up, and India was a vital but still not an immense market. All that changed in 2008 - particularly at the Auto Expo - when the Tata Nano was launched. While the Nano has not been the sales success that Ratan Tata had hoped it would be, its launch was a global event.
Since then, the Expo has been considered by some to be the start of the automotive calendar, instead of Detroit's North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in the heart of Motown.
India will become the world's third-largest car market in the next few years, overtaking the UK and Germany. Who knows, if urban infrastructure keeps up, we might be the world's second-largest car market behind China and ahead of the US by 2020.
But, that is, if infrastructure stays in place. And, on the face of it, the infrastructural challenges of the Auto Expo 2012 highlight the fact that India has a 'band-aid' approach to infrastructure, with the notable exception of the Delhi and Hyderabad airports.
Pragati Maidan dates from the early-1980's and while it sits in a prime location in the heart of Delhi, the halls and buildings are well past their prime.
The Auto Expo was also horribly organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM). Crowds were poorly managed, there was a media free-for-all and the event space itself was tragic. Auto Expo 2012, for lack of a nicer word, was an embarrassment.
What can be done to save the day?
I have a few suggestions.
- Get rid of the Automotive Component vendors - I understand the component makers want and need this show, but it leads to far too many Exhibitor passes, handed out indiscriminately. Ten-year old kids during the Auto Expo's Press Day? It happened. Again. This is an Auto Show, make it an Auto Show. Component vendors play a big role, but there is little or no public interest.
- Demolish and rebuild Pragati Maidan - And make it better than a German Messe ground. That includes building large underground parking, a better connection to the Metro and world-class exhibition space. Delhi should compete with other global cities for exhibitions and we need a ground worthy of this country and its capital. We built a decent mass rapid transit system and a world-class airport from scratch, I'm sure we can redevelop Pragati Maidan. The money invested in a new exposition centre will pay itself back manifold in a few years as more expositions come to India.
- Change the dates of the show - I understand CII and SIAM like being first, but the Auto Expo is almost always plagued with crappy weather. Delhi is much nicer in February.