Uber, which entered the Indian market in 2013, will complete a decade of its operations next year. The ride-hailing company today operates on a multi-business model in the country and is available in 120 cities, including tier 2 and tier 3. Prabhjeet Singh, President of Uber India and South Asia spoke exclusively to BusinessLine on the company’s expansion plan across the country, the emergence of India as a major R&D hub for the American company and dismissed reports of exiting India. Excerpts
The expansion of Uber across India has been slower compared to the US market. Is this by design or there any limiting factors that has prevented the growth?
We are not running after the vanity matrix and have expanded purely on strategic growth. We want to build a business respected by drivers and riders and is also sustainable in different geographies. In top cities, people want to use air-conditioned (AC) cars and there is a possibility to challenge the car-owner market. In other places, after consumer interactions, it was clear that many would prefer the same tech solution to be available on multiple platforms, including two or three-wheelers. The services were launched as we want to make sure consumers have a good product experience with sustainable economics.
How have you diversified in the Indian market from 2013?
We started our journey in Bangalore with premium cabs, luxury cars to where we now offer the same technology magic on four wheelers of different types, three wheelers, two wheelers and high-capacity vehicles. We recognise that not everyone would be travelling by AC cars and people may prefer three wheelers, two wheelers, buses and have expanded our business to reflect these choices.
Over the last three years we have diversified into three and two wheelers and the products are witnessing an accelerated growth.
As our product portfolio diversified, we had to iterate and evolve with technology to meet the localised needs. For example, India was the first cash market. We realised not everybody is willing to download the Uber mobile application which is when we partnered with WhatsApp.
Uber is still very early in the journey and less than 0.5 per cent of the city trips happen on this platform. When compared to the US market where the number is 3.9 per cent, the headroom is incredibly high.
The pandemic crippled the transport sector impacting the mobility space. How has the business bounced back, post the pandemic?
We used the pandemic as an opportunity to seize the window and launch new services like Uber Connect. As offices have opened up, we have witnessed the core intracity business of Uber Go and Uber Premium bounce back incredibly. In many cities they are at pre-coronavirus levels. We are no longer talking about recovery but focussed now on growth.
Our focus is also now on three-wheelers, two-wheelers, high-capacity vehicles, rentals and intercity. These are some of the growth beds that have shown traction over the last two to three years.
Rising fuel prices impact the driver and rider in India. How has it affected the business and what is Uber doing to ensure sustainable earnings to the drivers?
As the fuel prices have changed and evolved in the last 16 to 18 months, we are proactively adapting to the prices. Our goal is to attract earners and provide a sustainable earning. We stay compliant with local regulations on the fuel pricing and from time to time advocate on those pricing to change.
Will the focus now be on more Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities?
Uber is in India for the long term and we want to serve many addressable base. It is a deliberate choice that the company is making. We are doubling on new categories in the existing cities and scaling new products in other areas. Our target is to have more than 100 million users on the Uber platform.
What are the Uber India’s research and development that are being implemented globally?
We are building in India for the world. There are 13 charters that our teams in Bangalore and Hyderabad are working on and these are India first, and then replicated globally. The entire charter of India-relevant high-capacity vehicles are already live in Egypt, Mexico and other emerging markets. Technology developments are happening in India with the entire tech charter for rentals and intercity built out from here.
When the first centre was opened, we had taken a temporary facility out of a house in Hyderabad with first set of engineers. Today we have about 1,000 of them across Hyderabad and Bangalore, and 500 more are being hired.
There are talks on the government’s proposal for a structured rule to gig workers. How does the Uber see that being implemented in India?
Globally, the company advocated regulatory intervention that would create a framework to formalise gig workers. They love the flexibility of work and we have been sharing our learnings and experiences with multiple arms of the government on the same. We urge the government to implement it at the earliest.
What are the new products that Uber will introduce in India?
We are working on a pilot with black and yellow taxis in Mumbai and pilot e-rickshaws in Kolkata. The company is constantly innovating and there are many that are in concept and pilot stage.
There have been talks on Uber wanting to exit India. Is there anything in it at all?
We are in India to stay and have never had conversations about exiting the country. We are constantly talking about making customised solutions for the riders and drivers in India and there is still a lot more that has to be done for the Indian market segment.