Auto-Expo week in Delhi is on us again. Invitations are already pouring in for a variety of functions, including a variety of car/bike of the year awards, where everybody will win, with multiple organisations claiming to provide ranks and grades for everything rolling on inflated wheels, all nicely coordinated so that timings and dates do not clash. Much fun, good food, excellent wine will flow. The venues are packed with shiny cars and bikes as well as well-heeled and shiny people.
This is the right time of the year in Delhi for all this. With any luck, the sun will be out during the day, making Pragati Maidan a very pleasant afternoon interlude for a week. The crowds will head for the cars, bikes, buses and trucks—the real business will be done by the vast number of component and other supplier stalls, and seminars as well as conferences will give golden opportunities to all to network and schmooze. The Chinese, as is increasingly the case at such fairs and exhibitions, will be there in even larger numbers than before.
Auto-Expo in Delhi has always been a great show. With the new low-floor buses and Metro trains serving the Pragati Maidan area, one does not have to worry about parking either, and walking about inside is better than any other entertainment in town. The list of displays is already available, though to be frank, as of now there is nothing really exciting, everything has already been shown and previewed. VW Polo, Chevrolet Beat and Maruti Eeco are ready for the market. Likewise in two-wheelers whatever had to be released has been done. There is no ultra excitement of the Tata Nano sort this time around, though that will not keep the crowds away, nor would it in any way reduce the "success" of this exhibition. Place a dummy model of any sports or luxury car, and see the crowd pour in.
This time around the theme at Auto Expo 2010 is "Green Wheels". Just about 14 years ago, during the 1996 Auto Expo, yours truly was almost thrown out of the show for asking fairly aggressive questions on environmentally friendly developments. Remember, manufacturers were of the view that India was too backward for fuel injection and cleaner engines. In reality, the truth was that between the liquid fuel industry and the automobile manufacturers, somebody had to absorb the old clunker technology and the lousy fuel coming out of ancient refineries.
What would one like to see at Auto-Expo? Not newer, but the newest engine technologies need to be heading for India. For example, the multi-fuel new generation engines and the compressed air engines. One would also like to see better road and traffic management techniques, options and opportunities, ongoing maintenance (both optional and statutory) and related systems and suppliers. And most of all, one would like to see more about how the automobile industry plans to go about taking India even further along the road of becoming a real automobile superpower.
Anybody can now make a good car in India. The basic infrastructure is in place. It is time now to make state-of-the-art solutions. Auto-Expo in India has seldom looked towards the future, choosing instead to dwell on past glories and present problems. This needs to change.
Tailpiece: Pity SIAM, the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers, which is supposed to be the voice of the industry. With competing views and expectations, they increasingly sound like a swimmer trying to reach out into a dozen directions at the same time, and it will be interesting to see them take positions on "Green Wheels", while at the same time pushing for more and more benefits to obsolete personal transport solutions. — Veeresh Malik