New Delhi: SoftBank Group chairman Masayoshi Son said on Friday that Indian cab-hailing company Ola, in which SoftBank is an investor, may introduce a fleet of one million electric cars in partnership with an electric vehicle maker and the government—a move that could transform the electric mobility sector in the country.
Son said he was bullish on the electric vehicle segment in India and would look at investment opportunities in this space. The vehicles will be locally manufactured to support the government’s ‘Make in India’ campaign, he added.
“I think this will be the biggest initiative for electric vehicles in India,” Son, who attended the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit, said in an interview on Friday.
Son, 59, also met Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the day and proposed to partner with the government in the initiative. “He was excited about it,” said Son, who wants to reach the one million electric cars target in the next five years.
According to Son, Ola, which currently has regular diesel and petrol (CNG in the National Capital Region) cars on its platform, can help reduce pollution by providing electric vehicles to its drivers.
To be sure, it is still an idea that is yet to be fleshed out. Son said the specifics are yet to be decided. Electric vehicles, the ecosystem required for them and the solar energy business are among the sectors he is betting on.
Mint reported in June that sales of electric vehicles in India rose 37.5% to 22,000 units in the year ended 31 March, citing industry lobby group Society of Manufacturers of Electric Vehicles. Only 2,000 units were four-wheelers.
Electric vehicles have made little headway in India because of the high cost of manufacturing and the lack of infrastructure such as battery-charging stations, dampening the interest of investors. That could begin to change if an investor as big as SoftBank places a bet on the sector.
“The introduction of 1 million electric vehicles will transform the mobility landscape in the country. We are privileged to have Masa-san and SoftBank’s commitment to back the shared vision that Ola and the government have, towards the future of mobility for India,” said Bhavish Aggarwal, co-founder and chief executive officer of Ola.
SoftBank, which has invested about $400-$500 million in Ola, India’s largest cab aggregator, continues to remain bullish on the company. “I am going to support Ola,” Son said when asked about the company’s struggle to find new investors despite significant business growth.
Son, who has committed investment of $10 billion in India over a decade, said he remains bullish on the country despite the recent funding slowdown in the start-up ecosystem and would expand his existing Internet investments.
“I see a lot of opportunity in Internet-related start-ups and second is the solar business. We are going to start building a solar plant that will be up and running in generating solar power by spring next year. We are on track for that,” Son added.
At the summit, he said that he expects to surpass the commitment of $10 billion that he made in October 2014.
“I have the funds, we are looking for opportunities,” Son said.
SoftBank has already invested $2 billion in India in the last two years. Besides Ola (ANI Technologies Pvt. Ltd), it has invested in e-commerce marketplace Snapdeal (Jasper Infotech Pvt. Ltd), budget hotels aggregator Oyo Rooms (Oravel Stays Pvt. Ltd) and hyperlocal start-up Grofers India Pvt. Ltd.
Son spoke about what the world would be like in 30 years. “Computer intelligence will surpass mankind intelligence by 2018,” he predicted.
Son claimed his investment in ARM Holdings will lead this change. ARM is a UK-based chip maker that Son acquired for $32 billion early this year. He claims to have paid a 40% premium for the listed company. “I told myself, I am the luckiest man, I got the company so cheap,” he said. Thirty years on, Son envisions it to be a trillion-dollar bet. “ARM sold 15 billion chips last year… and it will sell one trillion chips over the next 20 years. If one chip is for $1, it is a $1 trillion bet,” he said in a conversation with R. Sukumar, editor of Mint.
Last month, Son along with the Saudi Arabian government, announced a $100 billion fund to make investments in technology, of which SoftBank’s share will be $25 billion.
Now the second richest man in Japan, Son made a fortune from his investment in China’s Alibaba Holdings Group Ltd. In 2000, he invested $20 million in the then fledgling Alibaba, which went public in 2014. The initial public offering valued Son’s 32% stake at $79 billion.