More reports on: Automotive, Cars

SoftBank's Son vows to give away 1 mn electric cars to Ola drivers

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03 December 2016

Masayoshi Son has a dream - to give away a million electric cars built in India, as the founder of Japanese Internet and telecom giant SoftBank reiterated his commitment to boosting Indian entrepreneurship.

Son, who spoke to The Economic Times following a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday, said he wished to ''give away a million electric cars, made in India, for free to drivers of Ola cars,'' as a way to address pollution and also underline his support to the ride-hailing company, which he first backed in 2014.

''This is a wish and not a commitment yet,'' said Son, adding that the electric vehicle project will depend on several stakeholders - local and central governments, vendors and Ola itself - agreeing on the terms.

Masayoshi Son added that if this wish materialises, it will contribute to Ola co-founder Bhavish Aggarwal's vision of creating 5 million skilled jobs.

SoftBank is the largest investor in Ola, India's biggest cab hailing company, and is currently in talks to invest further capital in its battle against US based rival Uber.

SoftBank has so far invested $2 billion in India, across seven companies and a joint venture for solar projects with Bharti Group. Son said the electric vehicle project and the promise to generate 20 gigawatt of solar energy will help exceed his target of investing $10 billion in India over 10 years.

''I am a man who keeps his word,'' he said.

Son is on a two-day visit to India where apart from meeting the PM, he has also met founders of SoftBank portfolio companies. He is scheduled to meet senior ministers including Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.

SoftBank's other large investment in India is in online marketplace Snapdeal.

Its combined investment in both Snapdeal and Ola is about $1.3 billion, with the two currently in the market for additional capital.

When SoftBank first backed Snapdeal in October 2014, it was the second largest online marketplace behind Flipkart and was competing for the top position. Since then it has slipped to the third position behind Amazon India in terms of gross sales and units sold, according to industry estimates.

Son said his support to portfolio companies in India will continue, citing the example of Alibaba where he has stayed invested for over 15 years and enjoys a good friendship with Alibaba's founder.

''I meet Jack Ma nearly every month,'' he said, adding that they have only sold a very small part of their holdings in the Chinese ecommerce giant.

''Our family guys are very talented, have great passion and commitment,'' said Son about the India portfolio.

Describing this period as ''still the beginning of a long journey,'' for Indian internet economy and SoftBank's portfolio companies, Son said, ''There will be good times, there will be bad times.''

He was of the view that one of the challenges to the digital economy in India is the ''slow'' growth of mobile internet infrastructure. However, he believes growing competition in the space with the launch of Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Jio will boost further spread of internet access.

The Korean born Japanese businessman exhorted Indian entrepreneurs to ''think big, think disruptive and execute with full passion. If the model is right, there is no limit.''





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