36 scintillating years and the shifting gears of Auto Expo India

By Poorva Sagar

It's the time of the year when automobile lovers from around India start getting antsy, as the Auto Expo has set its course to enthral us yet again. For over 35 years, this Expo has been a confluence of the latest technologies and sleek mean machines that set our hearts racing. Let's dive into what makes Auto Expo so special amidst all the buzz surrounding it.

The Mecca of Automobiles

The Auto Expo is India's largest biannual automobile exhibition, held once every two years with much fanfare. Some of the biggest auto industry players come together to show off their latest machines here. Not only does Auto Expo provide exclusive insights into upcoming models from global automotive companies, but it is also a space to discuss current trends, observe concepts straight out of the minds of top designers, and see technology advancements firsthand.

The 15th edition of India's largest motor show was held in February 2020, just before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country. The next edition of India's Auto Expo will be held from January 13-18, 2023, at the India Gate Mart in Greater Noida, expecting record footfalls after the two-year lull.

It looks like Auto Expo is set to be a bit of an 'electric' experience this year! With over 30 electric vehicle makers exhibiting their newest creations, Auto Expo is surely going to be one of the biggest events in the automotive industry. The 16th edition of Auto Expo promises a showcase spanning two-, three- and four-wheeler vehicles, all powered by electricity. This serves as an exciting reminder that the Auto Expo organisers are looking into more sustainable forms of transportation.

The 24 pure EV players displaying their beauties in the two- and three-wheeler sectors are sure to shake up your imagination.

But have you ever stopped to think about how much the Expo has changed since its inception in 1986? Back then, most cars were limited to a basic four-cylinder engine, and technology was just coming into play with features like power steering being added. Today, however, car makers are pushing the boundaries of innovation as cars become greener, faster, smarter, and increasingly luxurious - something that was unimaginable three decades ago!

This post will take a look at Auto Expo India and explore how this once humble trade show has evolved in the past 36 years to become one of the largest automotive events in the world.

The Auto Expo over the years: a journey worth remembering

The First Auto Expo, held in 1986 in New Delhi and organised by The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM), and The Automotive Component Manufacturers Association (ACMA) garnered quite a buzz from the get-go. Half a million visitors flocked to the Expo to witness an array of vehicles on display, including Limousines, Jeep-cum-cars, Trucks, Mini-Buses, and Electric delivery vans. All told, it was an 11-day ordeal full of excitement, and enough marvels to draw evermore crowds the next time round!

1993-1998: The Classy 90's

The second Auto Expo was held in 1993 at Pragati Maidan, New Delhi. On display were mostly scooters and other two-wheelers that were manufactured back then. In the third edition in 1996, the Expo took it up a notch with some iconic launches. Hyundai gave Auto Expo attendees a peek at one of their most iconic models - the Accent. Ford chose Auto Expo to launch the Escort and Fiesta, and Maserati debuted the Quattroporte. Jaguar and Audi unveiled their XJ model and A4 models, respectively.

Not only did major European companies make an appearance, but Indian car manufacturers like Tata had showcases, too - launching the SUV Safari that marked Tata's ambitions to become a global player in European markets. Notably, Tata Safari was displayed at the Geneva auto show, Tata's first European auto show.

The Auto Expo of 1998 featured some iconic car launches from two of Auto's biggest names, Hyundai and Mercedes, among others. Hyundai launched the Santro in this edition. The hatchback with power steering went on to become one of the most popular small vehicles in post-liberalization India. Santro represented ordinary India's transition from lower-income to middle class. The car was so popular at its peak that it accounted for 76% of the total sales of Hyundai.

2000-2010: A roaring new Millenium

Auto Expo was gaining popularity, especially with the Auto industry blooming at the turn of the Millennial decade. The 5th Auto Expo was held in 2000 and drew close to a million visitors, where Tata launched their Two-Door Convertible Concept car, the Aria.

Far from an event focusing only on cars, the 6th Auto Expo two years later (2002) saw launches such as luxury buses from Ashok Leyland, motorcycles from Honda, and cars from Hindustan Motors, Tata, Skoda, Toyota, and Mercedes.

Event Goers were particularly delighted by BMW's launch of their 7-Series X5 SUV, Z3 Roadster & M-Class M3 model lineup. Eicher also showcased their offerings, making it an Auto Expo worth remembering.

Auto Expo 2004 kicked off an exciting year with carmakers introducing some amazing new models that made customers fall in love with them. From Tata launching Indica V2 to Suzuki launching a two-seater 'Twin Hybrid' car, 'Jimny,' 'Formula Hayabusa' and the 1299cc motorcycle 'Hayabusa GSX1300R', Auto Expo 2004 was an exciting event for motoring enthusiasts across India.

However, what went on to steal the show (and eventually market) was the Maruti Alto. The humble hatchback, together with Hyundai Santro, went on to become an icon. Alto has become India's largest-selling car for 16 years and counting! Auto Expo 2004 was a great event that changed the auto landscape of India and established the Maruti Alto as one of its leading cars.

The Expo switched gears from iconic hatchbacks to sedans in 2006. From Aston Martin to Chevrolet Aveo, Honda Civic to Fiat Idea, and Suzuki Formula Hayabusa to Mitsubishi Lancer Cedia, Auto Expo had all the latest offerings available for auto lovers.

A star-studded affair where 1,000 exhibitors, including 300 from overseas, were present and foreign delegations made up of 60 members got together to create business deals worth $ 150 million. The excitement doesn't stop there, as even homegrown brands such as Mahindra & Mahindra displayed their concept Scorpio hybrid variant. With such a wide variety of cars available, it's no wonder over 9 lakh visitors showed up!

Auto Expo 2008 was a much-anticipated event that had the entire Indian automotive industry abuzz. With nearly 2,000 participants and 120,000 square feet of a display area, Auto Expo was second only to Shanghai Motor Show in size and grandeur. The Auto Expo got accredited by OICA (Organisation Internationale Des Constructeurs D'automobiles) of France, which added to its credibility as a major international event.

Auto Expo witnessed four global launches of new cars, including Tata's ambitious project - Rs one lakh car -the Nano. Auto Expo hosted approximately 12 lakh visitors from across the globe.

In 2010, Auto Expo celebrated its silver jubilee. The much-anticipated event attracted an estimated two million visitors during the seven-day extravaganza to witness the Advanced Auto Technologies (AAT) show put on by global majors.

With 25 new models launched, this edition was the most successful Expo ever, providing car fanatics with a real insight into the latest innovations in automobile technology.

India's auto expo is a reflection of the country's per capita income growth, which almost doubled between 2000-2010. This was evident in the shift from hatchbacks to sedans, as more Indian families now have the disposable income to afford a bigger car. As more Indian households reach higher per capita incomes, future auto expo events may continue to offer larger and more luxurious models in the upcoming exhibitions.

2012-2020: A breath-taking journey

As the exhibition marked its 25th anniversary, the global economy was still in slumber. With economies in a depression, the auto industry's big boys flocked to India, including British cult bike maker Triumph and the renowned BMW MINI.

The opening day of the Delhi Auto Expo 2012 saw a slew of showstoppers steal the show and wow audiences as big manufacturers arrived in India, many hoping to break the code in one of the world's most promising markets. Stars from the film industry joined the glistening metal beauties, adding glitter to the week-long event.

The year marked the launch of MINI in India, one of the world's most recognizable automobile brands. The mid-size sporty-looking car joined competitors such as the Volkswagen Beetle and the Fiat 500.

With this, the biannual Delhi Auto Expo joined the league of major global motor shows like those held in Tokyo, Geneva, and Frankfurt, with roughly 40 new cars and two-wheelers unveiled on day one and a stunning new location. The Expo Mart in Greater Noida, where the motor show was hosted for the first time, earned a solid thumbs up on its first day from visiting top executives from major carmakers.

Auto Expo 2014 and 2016 continued the legacy! Held over two venues and six days, Auto Expo showcased the diversity and origin of India's automotive market. With 40 new launches in 2014, auto enthusiasts had their minds blown away by never- seen before models, designs, and engine samples that sent a signal for what could soon be a reality in the Auto world.

Auto Expo 2018 came to an end today with a whopping 6 lakh visitors who were wowed by the 81 product unveilings and 18 concept showcases. The Expo welcomed 119 exhibitors, many of whom showcased their cars running on electric vehicles (EVs), hybrids, and other environmentally-friendly technology. Popular car makers like Maruti Suzuki, Tata Motors, Mahindra, and Kia Motors and luxury vehicle makers Mercedes-Benz and BMW put their newly launched vehicles on display.

Between 2012 and 2020, foreign brands found a new and highly attractive market in India. This was partly due to the country's growing income and its population largely composed of young people under 35. This shift significantly impacted the types of automobiles purchased by Indian customers; sedans have given way to SUVs and hybrids as the vehicles of choice.

The 2020 Auto Expo lifted the brand image of the show. The event transformed from simply a static display of motor vehicles to an all-encompassing experience focusing on the mobility ecosystem. This new brand was not just relatable for more people worldwide but allowed visitors to appreciate how the car industry had evolved.

Wrapping up

It's fascinating to think of how much progress we've seen since the Auto Expo India first started. The shift from comfort sedan cars and motorcycles to electric mobility options like e-bikes, growing competition among firms offering never-before features at moderate prices, and more! Whether you're looking for new cars to buy or just want to admire sleek machinery, Auto Expo has something for everyone.

With the rapid speed of invention and the "Make in India" push, who knows if we'll soon witness an Indian auto brand go from 0-60 in 3.5 seconds! Cheers!