India tops Uber co-founder and chief executive Travis Kalanick's radar for two opposite reasons - one, for the promise the country holds for the American ride-hailing service after it lost to Didi in China; and second for the madcap driving Indian roads are infamous for.
"India is going to be one of the last places to get autonomous vehicles," Kalanick said during a public chat in Delhi with NITI Ayog chief executive Amitabh Kant. He said countries that boast a more structured way of driving will see the advent of autonomous vehicles first.
However, he was quick to add that Uber is on its way to become profitable soon in India's $12 billion taxi market and is not looking at mergers.
Asked about Ola co-founder Bhavish Aggarwal's allegation that Uber is indulging in a capital-dumping game without showing any significant technological innovation, Kalanick looked at Kant and said, "I will apply for Indian citizenship if that is what's going to take to get over this hump."
Kalanick, whose net worth is pegged at around $7 billion, was referring to anti-trust, predatory pricing and capital-dumping barbs by most homegrown startups against their foreign rivals.
Softbank-backed Ola operates in 102 cities here, while Uber, which provides services in around 500 cities worldwide, is present in just 29. Last year, Uber said it invested $1 billion in India. It is expected that the world's most valuable startup (worth $70 billion) will pump in more funds into its India operations.
On demonetisation, Kalanick said around half of Uber's total fares are being paid by cash at present, compared to 80 per cent before 8 November.
During the interview, Kalanick and Kant mostly sparred on topics that centred on the future of urban mobility and government policies. When Kant said regulations will always be behind technology and the government needs to have an open mind to accept radical changes, Kalanick said China is one of the best places in the world for startups with respect to regulations. "They really embrace progress. On the other hand, Germany and Seoul have some interesting rules for ride-hailing startups like ours."
For instance, in Germany, regulations require an Uber driver to 'return to garage' between trips, Kalanick said. This means a driver must drive all the way back to his garage before picking up a customer who is five minutes away. "This doesn't make sense," he said. "In Seoul, Ubers are legal as long as the passengers they are carrying are not Koreans!"
Kalanick said although Delhi has around double the number of cars it had 10 years ago, the city may be five to 10 years away from having no traffic. "During a car's lifetime, we use it just 4 per cent of the time and for the rest, it sits idle eating up precious real estate that could have been used for housing. Our biggest competition here is car ownership."