SoftBank’s Son says Japan is ‘stupid’ to disallow ride-sharing

“A country that gives up on the future has no future,” SoftBank Group CEO Masayoshi Son told attendees at a SoftBank World event. (Reuters)
Updated 19 July 2018
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SoftBank’s Son says Japan is ‘stupid’ to disallow ride-sharing

  • ‘Ride-sharing is prohibited by law in Japan. I can’t believe there is still such a stupid country’
  • SoftBank and its nearly $100 billion Vision Fund have invested in ride-sharing firms Uber, Didi, Ola and Grab, as well as in other technology companies

TOKYO: SoftBank Group Corp. Chief Executive Masayoshi Son blasted Japan on Thursday for not allowing ride-sharing services, calling it “stupid” and saying the country was lagging overseas rivals in areas such as artificial intelligence (AI).
“Ride-sharing is prohibited by law in Japan. I can’t believe there is still such a stupid country,” Son said at an annual company event aimed at customers and suppliers.
The comments reflect Son’s frustration with Japan where he built SoftBank’s domestic telecoms business, the cash engine that has powered his investments. The group has, however, focused its growing range of technology investments overseas.
Son has also been highly critical of the government previously when SoftBank was still a fledgling telecoms service trying to break up a cozy duopoly in Japan.
“A country that gives up on the future has no future,” Son told attendees at the SoftBank World event, saying Japanese business is lagging behind countries such as the United States and China in employing AI.
Japan outlaws non-professional drivers from transporting paying customers on safety grounds and the country’s taxi industry lobby has vigorously opposed deregulation.
Its strict rules have confined ride-sharing firms to providing limited services, with SoftBank and China’s Didi Chuxing saying on Thursday they will trial a taxi-hailing service — matching users to pre-existing taxi operators — in Osaka beginning autumn of 2019. Uber is also piloting a taxi-hailing service.
When asked for a response to Son’s comments, a spokesman for the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport said that an issue with ride-sharing services was that while the driver was in charge of transporting passengers, it was unclear who was in charge of maintenance and operation.
“The ministry believes that offering these services for a fee poses problems from the points of both safety and user protection, and careful consideration is necessary,” he said.
Ride-sharing is not the only service in Japan feeling the impact of government restrictions. Strict new rules on home-sharing came into force last month that have radically reduced the number of lettings on sites such as Airbnb Inc.
The curbs on Japan’s nascent sharing economy come despite a rapid rise in the number of inbound tourists likely to access such sharing services, and at a time when Japan is wanting to show its international face ahead of hosting the Rugby World Cup next year and the Summer Olympics in 2020.
While Son, an ethnic Korean born in Japan, has at times criticized the Japanese government, he can also be politically suave. He has praised US President Donald Trump with warm words and pledged to invest billions of dollars and create thousands of jobs in the United States.
SoftBank and its nearly $100 billion Vision Fund have invested in ride-sharing firms Uber Technologies Inc, Didi, India’s Ola and Southeast Asia’s Grab, as well as in other technology companies.
The event on Thursday saw presentations from executives at portfolio companies including Didi, General Motors’ autonomous vehicle unit Cruise and India digital payments firm Paytm E-Commerce Pvt Ltd.
Artificial intelligence is the common thread linking these companies, Son said, with that technology in the future able drive vehicles, diagnose diseases and power financial services.


Philips to close its UK factory in 2020, with loss of 400 jobs

Updated 42 min 53 sec ago
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Philips to close its UK factory in 2020, with loss of 400 jobs

AMSTERDAM/LONDON: Dutch health technology company Philips said on Thursday it planned to close its only factory in Britain in 2020, with the loss of around 400 jobs, the latest firm to move manufacturing jobs out of Britain.
The move is part of a push by Philips to reduce its large manufacturing sites worldwide to 30 from 50, and a spokesman said the decision had no direct link with Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.
However, the company said in a statement that it had to “pro-actively mitigate the potential impact of various ongoing geopolitical challenges, including uncertainties and possible obstructions that may affect its manufacturing operations.”
The factory in Glemsford, Suffolk, produces babycare products, mainly for export to other European countries. Almost all its activities will move to Philips’ plant in Drachten, the Netherlands, which already employs around 2,000 workers.
“We have announced the proposal after careful consideration, and over the next period, we will work closely with the impacted colleagues on next steps,” said Neil Mesher, CEO of Philips UK & Ireland.
“The UK is an important market for us, and we will continue to invest in our commercial organization and innovation programs in the country.”
Once a sprawling conglomerate, Philips has transformed itself into a health technology specialist in recent years, shedding its consumer electronics and lighting divisions.
The firm has previously warned that Brexit would put Britain’s status as a manufacturing hub at risk.
Chief Executive Frans van Houten last year said that without a customs union — which has been ruled out by Prime Minister Theresa May — Philips would have to rethink its manufacturing footprint.
Britain is set to leave the EU on March 29, and politicians are at an impasse over how to do so after lawmakers overwhelmingly rejected May’s proposed withdrawal agreement on Tuesday.
Other firms have moved jobs out of Britain in recent weeks, sparking alarm among lawmakers that Brexit is impacting corporate decision-making.
Jaguar Land Rover has slashed UK jobs — mainly due to lower Chinese demand and a slump in European diesel sales — while Ford has said it will slash thousands of jobs as part of its turnaround plan.
While both decisions were driven by factors other than Brexit, each firm has also been vocal in warning of the risks of no-deal Brexit, where Britain leaves abruptly in March without a transition period.