Indian Auto Expo – Where the cars are the stars

Crisp winter mornings, palpable excitement in the air, conversations peppered with horsepower, torque, a tangible passion for cars from people who write on the subject day in and day out – this probably best describes the first two days of the 12th Indian Auto Expo.

Designed as media days, the Auto Expo that will open to the public between the 7th and 11th was a battle for media mindshare. People from all over the country travelled to see the bounty on display and this year, there was plenty. A change in venue (the AutoExpo till now was held in Pragati Maidan, in the heart of the city) brought distance but that did not change the enthusiasm or numbers.

The conversations were, as expected, intelligent, informed and a 100% auto! Auto media from across platforms discussed merits, faults, almost hits and the wow-factor elements –new products, display and design, facilities and hospitality and of course spokespersons who had travelled to promote individual brands.

Mercedes-Benz was a must visit Pavilion, drawing not just its media favourites but pretty much everyone. The M-Guard lived up to its promise of being the safest SUV – beguilingly suave on the outside, luxurious inside but hard core every inch of the way. The CLA 45 AMG was coveted more than most, a claim justified by the fact that the number of stories reported the next day saw a larger share of voice for Mercedes-Benz compared to other luxury players. There was quite a bit of conversation about the concept GLA unveiling. However, team Mercedes–Benz definitely knows the art of surprise – The actual European model of GLA certainly had my eyes gleaming with joy. The extra luxurious lounge with wi-fi, privileged access cards, catered dining and beverages made the Mercedes-Benz Star Lounge the place to head to for a quick break or filing stories.

Needless to say, the stars were undoubtedly the portfolio of cars proudly displayed. The anticipation was in the unveiling and other practical matters like when the cars launched would be available in India and of course the pricing.

One has to digress here just a little to provide an understanding of how the media works in India. Like the country itself, it is complicated – there are different kinds of media not just from across platforms including print, electronic, online and auto trade; but also because of India’s uniqueness of multiple languages, a big chunk of publications is vernacular media. They are important because they reach a wider range of people, especially tier two and three cities where growing incomes make these geographies emerging markets within the country.

So it’s like this – there were over 600 media registered to attend the event. Of this, every brand has a list of key media persons and publications that they court – so while for the journalists, the cars were the stars, the media days also proved that the top auto journalists in the country were the stars as far as the brands went!

Long days, tired feet with all the walking from pavilion to pavilion, hundreds of cards exchanged, new relationships formed and old renewed; workers working at a pace that would put clocks to shame, the visible effort of teams across departments working together to ensure that all efforts were aligned to generate the desired output. Months of planning and preparation for 2 days of winning media mindspace and share of voice – the Auto Expo is one of the most important calendar dates for manufacturers in the country.

Like all events that are intense and important, the end is always a little anti-climatic for its participants – while an event starts with people wanting to get the two days over with, the end is inevitably greeted with a sense of disappointment; that the pressure, the excitement, the adrenaline rush that lets you get through the day with no thought of food or breaks but a single minded focus on the next task is over – the next Expo is two years away (it is a biennial event.)

From where we were working, the Mercedes-Benz Pavilion, there were distinct advantages. The Three Pointed Star is one of India’s favourite brands, the relationships with the media is strong enough to draw them in; the Pavilion stood out with its subtle style and exuded excellence across every touch point. Beyond everything, the CLA 45 AMG and GLA brought accolades – Mercedes-Benz at its best – a word that came from the people who mattered and whose views will influence millions of readers and car aficionados.

There was a promise made as the New Year was rung in – it would be the Mercedes-Benz Year of Excellence. First the S-Class and now the CLA 45 AMG – the feedback from the ones who matter said – it simply can’t get better. We say wait and watch…