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Green vs Blu: An electrifying cab war in the offing

Uber's 'Green' EV fleet is pitted directly against the biggest homegrown EV cab player BluSmart in India. Can the desi warrior keep the global David at bay?

Rajiv Singh
Published: May 25, 2023 02:51:20 PM IST
Updated: May 25, 2023 03:02:23 PM IST

Green vs Blu: An electrifying cab war in the offingUber Green versus BluSmart: The global ride-sharing platform is rolling out ‘Green’, its EV (electric vehicles) car fleet in Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru from June. Illustration: Chaitanya Dinesh Surpur

It’s a battle of unequals. But then, this is how all ‘David versus Goliath’ scripts unfold. Right? It’s a battle between a global giant that can flex its financial muscle and operational clout to gobble smaller rivals versus the tenacity of homegrown warriors who are equally capable of upsetting the calculations of the big boys on the back of their first-mover advantage and nimbleness. But isn’t that how all MNCs versus local wars start to begin with? Remember Flipkart versus Amazon? MakeMyTrip versus Expedia? Naukri versus Monster, and Ola versus Uber?

Adding one more ‘versus’ to the long list is the latest ‘Uber Green versus BluSmart’. The global ride-sharing platform is rolling out ‘Green’, its EV (electric vehicles) car fleet in Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru from June. “Green will roll out in other cities in a phased manner," says an Uber spokesperson. The long-term plan is to deploy 25,000 cars over the next two years through a wide network of large fleet partners. Uber, the spokesperson underlines, is expanding its fleet network with Lithium Urban Technologies—which happens to be India’s largest B2B fleet service provider—Everest Fleet, and Moove. “Uber does not own or operate fleets,” he says, alluding to continuing with its asset-light business model, and helping the driver partners own the EVs. “When we talk about going electric, we are looking at the entire mobility ecosystem which includes buses,” he adds, claiming that Uber has around 8 lakh drivers in India. He, however, declined to share the total number of cars on its platform. 

Green vs Blu: An electrifying cab war in the offingSo, Uber’s EV game plan in India is simple: Start with cars, add two-wheeler (Moto), and then swiftly attach other modes of transportation.

BluSmart, meanwhile, is a blue-blooded EV player, which started operations from Delhi-NCR in 2019. In four years, the startup has briskly scaled up its operations to become the biggest EV cab operator in India. It has over 2,600 charging points, has expanded operations into Bengaluru, has a fleet of over 3,500 cars, claims to add 500 cars every month, and has over 4,700 drivers. The most interesting part, though, is the way it operates. Unlike Uber which doesn’t own any car and has an asset-light model, BluSmart buys EVs and has drivers on its rolls. So, it works on an asset-heavy model.

So, how will the fight pan out? To begin with, BluSmart has the first-mover advantage, and this edge is not because of having a head-start, reckon marketing and branding experts. Harish Bijoor explains why Blu has a bigger ‘green’ attached to its name.

One first needs to understand the dynamics of the cab-aggregation business, underlines Bijoor, who runs an eponymous brand consulting firm. In this business, everything is outsourced—from the driver, the vehicle, and the place from where the loan is taken. “Outsourcing helps when you want to scale,” he says. But EVs are a niche story. And a niche story, he maintains, is best told by a niche player, who is deep into the game rather than wide. BluSmart, he adds, specialises and owns the entire value chain of green, which includes ownership, quality and customer experience.

Green vs Blu: An electrifying cab war in the offing

Green vs Blu: An electrifying cab war in the offingAlso read: Electric is the Trick: Why BluSmart is on a high-voltage ride

Uber’s EV play, Bijoor reckons, has lighter shades of green. “Uber’s EV narrative is like in an ocean of non-green, there is a small island of green,” he reckons, adding that any player entering into the EV space must only speak and understand the language of green. “You either must have the green spine or the green backbone. Uber doesn’t have one,” he says. While conceding that a player like Uber will definitely jolt smaller ones like BluSmart, Bijoor quickly adds that money and discounting won’t decide the winners. “EV is a mind game. If BluSmart plays well, it will maintain the edge,” he adds.

Meanwhile, Anmol Singh Jaggi, co-founder and CEO of BluSmart, has already started playing mind games. “BluSmart is a born electric company with an EV-centric foundation,” reckons Jaggi. Making a transition to EVs, he underlines, is not solely about financial resources. It revolves around having a technological advantage that underpins the entire electric ride-hailing business model. With over four years of operational experience under its belt, BluSmart has gained a significant advantage in comprehending the performance of EVs in various parameters such as weather conditions and understanding the reception of EVs among riders and drivers, he contends. “The wealth of valuable data and experience sets us apart from other players who lack this advantage, putting them at a perpetual disadvantage,” he contends.

Green vs Blu: An electrifying cab war in the offingAlso read: Frugality for the win: How Markus Villig's ride-sharing app Bolt is taking on giant Uber

But is Jaggi not scared with the size of his rival? The CEO smiles. “Success in this industry isn't solely dependent on deep pockets,” he says. The key lies in understanding the unique dynamics of the electric mobility sector and leveraging it strategically.

Experts and industry observers point out another crucial element that will decide the winner. “Consumer experience will be the clincher,” reckons Rajan Gahlot, assistant professor (department of commerce) at Delhi School of Economics. While over the last decade, the cab aggregators made life easy for riders, the business largely ignored the interests of users and drivers. If users grappled with the nuisance of frequent cab cancellations, absence of punctuality, haggling with drivers, stinking cars, surge pricing and poor quality of cars, drivers had to cope with immense stress around prolonged working hours and excessive commission charged by the ride-hailing platforms. “Just by rolling an EV, these ills won’t disappear,” he says, adding that if a player doesn’t own a car and control the experience, user stickiness would remain elusive. “For now, it’s definitely Blu that has an edge, but it’s too early to announce the winner,” he adds.

Seems like an enticing Green versus Blu fight is on the cards.

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