Global Observer

Chaos and innovation compete at Auto Expo in Delhi

Chaos and innovation compete at Auto Expo in Delhi

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DELHI -- Ford Motor Company launches its "EcoSport" at one of the largest auto shows that has top carmakers coping with crazy crowds but vying for a slice of the Indian market.

DELHI -- Getting into the Mercedes-Benz showing area meant a half-hour wait in a long line that went on and on. Not too far away, a model got jostled in a crowd while struggling to make her way to the car she had to pose with. Thousands of people had managed to get tickets on the auto show's second day that was blocked off for the media and invited guests.

The crush of people left little space to move about in the showrooms, which quickly got hot and clammy. Super-enthusiastic spectators strained against the ropes to click photos of the latest designs of SUVs, electric cars, bikes, tractors and lots more/ or get their own pictures clicked inside the vehicles. "No need to push brothers and sisters," declared one nervous security guard as he failed to tame hundreds of people trying to squeeze their ways through the entrance doors--all at once.

Getting parking proved to be a nightmare. Some folks having to leave their cars 2kms away. Indian journalists were seriously bugged about media day being hijacked by boisterous families getting in their way and trying to get their hands on as many freebies as possible.

There is serious concern about the chaos unfolding at Pragiti Maidan--a sprawling fair ground for large exhibitions in the national capital. It is expected to get crazier when this huge auto show officially opens to the public on Saturday and runs till Jan 11. Its organizers--Confederation of Indian Industry, Automotive Component Manufacturers Association and Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers--are already under fire for charging high rents for the stalls but providing a shoddy ambiance.

Anand Mahindra, from the Indian automaker Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd., tweeted, "Fare on display AutoExpoDelhi is the richest I've seen.Infrastructure is still the poorest&beams a contradictory picture to the world."

Still, the throngs of people are a boost for car companies especially after a bad year for the India automobile industry due to high fuel prices and high rates of interest. With business slow in the U.S., American companies like Ford and General Motors are out to woo consumers in developing countries like China, Brazil and India.

Alan Mulally, the CEO of Ford Motor Company, came to Delhi to launch the Ford EcoSport. He planted a big kiss on the shiny orange car that runs on an all-new three-cylinder EcoBoost engine. The car hold the power of a conventional 1.6 litre engine with less than 140 g/m CO2 emissions, according to the Detroit-based company.

"Fitted with a long list of innovative technologies, the 1.0 litre EcoBoost is one the most technologically advanced and efficient engines Ford has ever designed and produced," said Joe Bakaj, vice president of engineering at Ford. Starting with India, the EcoSport will be available in more than a 100 markets in different parts of the world.

Pavan Yadav, a businessman, stared at the orange car for a long time. He appeared mesmirized. Three of his friends joked that he was in love. Yadav obliged by singing a few bars of a song. "I saw it and fell in love," he said. "I can't explain it...it's just a feel." Yadav declared that if the car was for sale, he would buy seven of them today--providing they were available in black or white.

Sanjeev Kumar, a diplomat who had come with his family, did not burst into a song but said that he liked the size of the car---"not a huge SUV but not too small." Kumar said that Ford would do well in India but added that getting spare parts for its cars was still way too expensive.

Ford Motor Company is digging its heels in India. It recently announced plans to invest $1 billion in two new manufacturing facilities in Gujarat that will add 5000 people to its current workforce of more than 10,000. Ford already has a manufacturing facility near Chennai that produces Ford Figo, Ford Fiesta Classic and Ford Endeavour. Under its expansion plan, the company's production capacity in 2012 will increase from 250,000 to 340,000 units per year.

Other big companies including Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Toyota, BMW Group and Maruti Suzuki also launched new models. Several intiatives were geared towards making vehicles more environmentally friendly. But one journalist observed that the "greener" cars had relatively less jostling crowds than the big fuel-run SUVs.

Tata Motors Ltd., the Indian company that owns Jaguar Land Rover, presented its concept for the Pixel car that will run on three-cylinder petrol and diesel engines and its fuel consumption is about 30km/liter. The car is geared towards the European markets. Tata had previously built the Nano, which was dubbed as the world's most inexpensive car for less than $2000. But the small car, expected to take India by storm, didn't do that well. In 2011, Nano sales improved.

The Pixel, which is based on the Nano design, is about 2.6 meters long. The small car looks both cute and interesting because of an over-sized windscreen and its doors, when open, look like bird-wings suspended in the air.

The Tata Pixel also introduces "My Tata Connect"-"the first integrated human machine interface from Tata motors."  This techonology, according to the makers, enables integration of the users' smartphone or tablet with the vehicles infotainment system. But it could take another few years for the small car to actually hit the road.

Even several of the electric and hybrid cars on display are these "concept" cars that show the engineering-prowess of an auto company even though financial and economic potholes prevent a large-scale practical transformation of these efforts. "They may or may not come on the road," observed one representative.

(Photos- Betwa Sharma)

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Betwa Sharma

Correspondent

Betwa Sharma has written for the Christian Science Monitor, Time, Foreign Policy, The New Republic, The Daily Beast, AOL News, GlobalPost, The Huffington Post, Columbia Journalism Review, The Times of India, Hindustan Times, Indian Express and The Tribune. She previously worked as the United Nations/New York correspondent for the Press Trust of India, the country's largest newswire. She holds degrees from the National Law Institute University in India, Cambridge University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She is based in Delhi, India. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure