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Uber to boost India investments in renewed push to win market share

Sharpens India focus after consolidation in Southeast Asian markets

Media speculate about Uber's potential merger with Indian rival Ola. (Photo by Shinya Sawai)

MUMBAI (NewsRise) -- Uber is doubling down on its investments in India, as the SoftBank-backed ride-hailing service provider focuses on Asia's third-biggest economy with the resources freed up after recent retreats from other regional markets.

"For Uber, India is absolutely a core market, now and in the future," Chief Operating Officer Barney Harford told reporters in New Delhi on Wednesday. "Uber's success is hard-coded in India's success."

The executive's comments come in the backdrop of the U.S. company's announcement in March to sell its Southeast Asian business to bigger regional rival Grab. The company, which is gearing up for a potential public listing in 2019, had previously sold operations in China and Russia to local rivals.

"The recent merger we concluded in Southeast Asia has freed up resources which we will invest across people, products, and partnerships to better serve this country," Harford said. He, however, declined to disclose the amount of investment Uber proposes to make in India.

The consolidation in major Asian markets triggered media speculation about Uber's potential merger with Indian rival Ola, a ride-hailing service also backed by Japan's SoftBank. The two companies are locked in a high-stakes battle for market share since Uber entered India in 2013.

Harford said Uber is not keen to buy a minority stake in any company in India, though he didn't rule out the chances of a potential partnership.

"We are always open to having conversations with potential partners. Our commitment to the Indian market is very deep and we see substantial growth."

Ride-hailing services have become popular in Indian cities in recent years, helped by creaky public transport systems and low rates of car ownership. India has emerged as Uber's largest market outside the U.S. in terms of the number of cities where it operates.

In 2016, the company opened its first engineering center in Asia in India to develop customized solutions for riders and drivers.

Still, India remains an unprofitable and costly market for Uber as stifling competition and cut-rate fares became a standard feature of the ride-hailing industry to win customers. Uber's presence across 30 cities in India is eclipsed by the reach of rival Ola, which is already present in more than 100 cities.

Uber India President Amit Jain said the company is not planning a large expansion beyond what has been already committed to. "We might expand to a couple of more, but not much more than the cities we are currently in," Jain said.

Meanwhile, Jain said Uber remains committed to the roll-out of an electric vehicle fleet in India, where the government has laid out a 15-year plan to electrify all vehicles by offering incentives and restricting the registration of automobiles that depend on fossil fuels.

Last year, Uber partnered with automaker Mahindra and Mahindra to test the roll out of 700 electric vehicles on its hiring platform. On Monday, rival Ola said it plans to add 10,000 electric three-wheelers in its fleet in the next one year and put one million vehicles on offer by 2021.

--Shivangi Acharya and Dhanya Ann Thoppil

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