Investors could pump $1bn into Uber self-driving cars

An Uber self-driving car drives down 5th Street in San Francisco, California. (AFP)
Updated 14 March 2019

Investors could pump $1bn into Uber self-driving cars

  • SoftBank’s Vision Fund and other investors are weighing up a minority stake in Uber’s self-driving vehicle unit
  • Uber has been in a race with Google-owned Waymo and a host of other companies to develop self-driving vehicles

SAN FRANCISCO: A group of investors including SoftBank Group are in talks to invest $1 billion or more into Uber’s self-driving car unit, The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.
Word of a potential infusion of cash valuing the Uber autonomous vehicle division at from $5 billion to $10 billion comes as the ride-hailing startup steers toward a hotly-anticipated stock market debut.
Under terms being discussed, SoftBank’s Vision Fund and other investors, including a car maker, would take a minority stake in Uber’s self-driving vehicle unit, according to the Journal.
Led by Japan’s Masayoshi Son, the Vision Fund is heavily invested by Saudi Arabia.
The Journal described the “late-stage” talks as fluid, with the possibility a deal might not be reached.
Uber has been in a race with Google-owned Waymo and a host of other companies, including major automakers, to develop self-driving vehicles.
Waymo said this month that it would sell a key innovation to companies that don’t compete with its autonomous cars.
The California-based unit of Google parent Alphabet will offer its lidar sensors, which measure distance with pulses of laser light, to companies in robotics, security, agricultural technology and other sectors.
The move could offer a new revenue stream for Waymo as it invests in bringing “robo taxis” to market, broadening the availability of the 3D lidar sensors it has been developing since 2011.
Uber is aiming beyond car rides to becoming the “Amazon of transportation” in a future where people share, instead of own, vehicles.
If all goes to plan, commuters could ride an e-scooter to a transit station, take a train, then grab an e-bike, share a ride or take an e-scooter at the arriving station to complete a journey — all using an Uber app on a smartphone.
Uber’s platform moves cargo as well as people, with a “Freight” service that connects truckers with shippers in a way similar to how drivers connect with people seeking rides.
Uber is also seeing growing success with an “Eats” service that lets drivers make money delivering meals ordered from restaurants.


India probes Flipkart, Amazon discounts after retailers complain

Updated 15 October 2019

India probes Flipkart, Amazon discounts after retailers complain

  • Products on Amazon, Flipkart listed at steep discounts in sale
  • Trader groups allege firms violating foreign investment rules

NEW DELHI: The Indian government is looking into whether hefty discounts offered on Walmart-owned Flipkart and Amazon.com during their online festive sales violate foreign investment rules, a commerce ministry official told Reuters.
India introduced new rules in February aimed at protecting the 130 million people dependent on small-scale retail by deterring big online discounts. The rules forced e-commerce firms to tweak their business structures and drew criticism from the United States, straining trade ties between New Delhi and Washington.
While Amazon and Flipkart say they’ve complied with the federal rules, local trader groups say the two companies are violating them by burning money to offer discounts — of more than 50 percent in some cases — during the ongoing festive sales.
Reuters reviewed emails and internal training material from Flipkart showing the company is in some cases offering to reduce, or forfeit, its sales commission from sellers that offer discounts.
The commerce ministry official said the government was reviewing complaints and evidence filed by the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT), a group representing some 70 million brick-and-mortar retailers, alleging Amazon and Flipkart were violating the foreign investment rules.
The official declined to comment on possible action, but executives from Amazon and Flipkart were summoned to meet commerce ministry officials last week to discuss the matter.
Flipkart in a statement said it had a “good meeting” with government officials and it was “deeply committed to doing business the right way in India.”
Amazon said it had an “open & transparent discussion” with officials and has a high bar for compliance.
Seeking to attract shoppers around the key Hindu festival of Diwali, both retailers have placed full-page advertisements in top national daily the Times of India to showcase discount offerings stretching from Samsung and Apple phones to clothing and diapers.
“Customers are going online because of the unbelievable discounts. Because of this sales at offline businesses are down 30 percent to 40 percent this month,” CAIT’s secretary general Praveen Khandelwal said.
Two emails received by Flipkart sellers in September, just days ahead of the inaugural phase of the festive sales, showed it offering to partly fund discounts.
The company would “burn” 3 percent of the discount if a seller lowered a product price by 15 percent, or 9 percent if the seller discounted by 30 percent, said one of the emails.
In training material posted on Flipkart’s restricted website for its sellers, seen by Reuters, the company asks them to prepare for the festive season by saying “nothing is bigger than this” and explaining how they can benefit by discounting products for Flipkart’s premium customers.
“We want to ensure that you fetch as much profit from it as possible ... whatever the discount you are offering, half of that will be reimbursed to you by Flipkart,” a post said.
A Flipkart source said the incentives were compliant with Indian regulations and were aimed at promoting sellers’ earnings by effectively reducing the commission they pay.
All India Online Vendors Association, whose 3,500 members sell products on various online platforms including Flipkart, in a statement said fewer than 100 of its members benefitted from Flipkart’s partial discount funding, giving some sellers an unfair advantage.