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Uber will stay in India and fight it out with Ola, says COO Barney Hardford

Uber's new COO Barney Hardford said the Indian market has such a huge potential that the company won't settle for minority stakes in deals here. The world's most valued startup's comments come in the wake of talks of a merger of its India unit with homegrown rival Ola.

Vidya S        Last Updated: April 19, 2018  | 08:27 IST
Uber will stay in India and fight it out with Ola, says COO Barney Hardford

San Francisco-based cab aggregator Uber on Wednesday said it would stay put in India and will step up its investments in the country to take on arch rival Ola. Uber's new COO Barney Hardford said the Indian market has such a huge potential that the company won't settle for minority stakes in deals here.

The world's most valued startup's comments come in the wake of talks of a merger of its India unit with homegrown rival Ola.

Hardford said Uber has found itself with some freed up resources after its recent deal with ride-hailing firm Grab in South-east Asia, which it will "invest across people, products and partnerships that can better serve this country and the cities that we operate in."

"India is absolutely a core market, now and in the future. Uber's success is hard coded to India's success...We are doubling down on our investments in this country like never before," said Hardford.

Calling the situation in India different from that in Southeast Asia, the COO said, "We have clear strengths in the Indian market and see huge potential in the market. We have no interest in doing minority deals going forward and the commitment we have to the Indian market is immense."

Uber sold its South-east Asia business to bigger local rival Grab, getting a 27.5 per cent stake in Grab, which was last valued at $6 billion in July. Uber has also exited China and Russia after selling their business to local rivals.

Hardford, who took charge as Uber COO in December, is on a four-day trip to India. His visit comes months after CEO Dara Khosrowshahi's trip in February. This has intensified speculation about a possible merger between Ola and Uber in India. The speculation was triggered by SoftBank- an investor in Ola - joining Uber as an investor and committing over $1 billion.

However, Hardford refused comment on whether Uber is holding merger discussions with Ola. The Bengaluru-based startup has not spoken about it either. The two have reportedly held multiple rounds of discussions, including one just before Khosrowshahi's February visit. But no deal has been struck yet.

Apart from India, both startups also compete in Australia as Ola recently forayed into Perth and Sydney. In India, Ola continues to have a stronger hold, operating in 110 cities. Uber, on the other hand, runs its services only in 29 cities in the country, which is its largest after the United States.

"We are not expanding to a lot more cities in India. The additional cities (that Ola operates in) account for a very small fraction of the total trips we book in the cities we are already present in," said Uber India and south Asia president Amit Jain.

The potential is so much more in the cities we are already present in, and that is why our focus is going to remain on them, he added. Hardford also said they are working to make Uber Elevate, flying electric vehicles, operational by 2022. Uber has announced a partnership with India's only electric car maker Anand Mahindra-led Mahindra & Mahindra to test drive 700 electric vehicles in Delhi and Hyderabad.

Rival Ola has announced it will introduce 10,000 three-wheeled e-rickshaws and electric auto-rickshaws over the next 12 months. Hardford also released a report by Boston Consulting Group which said congestion costs in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Bengaluru were estimated to be $22 billion per year.

The report commissioned by Uber said Indian cities are 149 per cent more congested than comparable cities around Asia with commuters taking 1.5 times longer to travel a given distance in peak hours (compared to travel time during non-peak hours) on an average.

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