First overseas foray: Ola to drive Down Under to take on rival Uber

Softbank-backed Ola has launched its service in Australia, its first overseas market, as it looks to fulfill its global ambitions in line with the ride-hailing model peers and competitors such as Didi Chuxing, Grab and Uber have built.

The company in a press note said that it has begun inviting private hire vehicle owners in the cities of Sydney, Melbourne and Perth to sign up on its service. Commencement of its commercial operations is still subject to necessary regulatory approvals, Ola added.

Business Standard had first reported on January 9 that Ola was planning to set up operations in Australia and New Zealand as it looked for new avenues for growth. The company at the time had shrugged off queries from the newspaper calling them “baseless speculation”.

“We are very excited about launching Ola in Australia and see immense potential for the ride-sharing ecosystem which embraces new technology and innovation.” said Bhavish Aggarwal, co-founder and CEO at Ola, in a statement. “With a strong focus on driver-partners and the community at large, we aim to create a high-quality and affordable travel experience for citizens.”

Ola will squarely take on Uber, which is the leader in Australia’s ride-hailing market, apart from smaller players such as Estonian Taxify and local GoCatch. Unlike in the US and Europe, Australia’s ride-hailing market still has room to grow which is what continues to attract more players.

Moreover, unlike several countries in the West that have shrugged and combated the rise of taxi-hailing, Australia has embraced the concept, making it legal back in 2015. This would give Ola a chance to flex its muscles against Uber at a time when the US company is fighting to change it culture, regulators and investors who are getting jittery about returns.

Ola’s expansion drive comes after the company managed to raise $1.1 billion from investors such as Tencent, Softbank, UC-RNT and Falcon Edge over the last 12-18 months. Moreover, rival Uber has been asked by common investor Softbank to focus on winning in the US and Europe, showing favouritism to other local ride-hailing firms it has invested in.

While Softbank now controls stake in most major ride-hailing firms, including Uber, Didi, Grab and Ola, it isn’t stopping these firms from taking each other on. Didi recently invested in 99 (formerly 99Taxis) which competes with Uber in Brazil. However, insiders say that while Softbank is giving firms a free run, it’s clamping down on capital heavy battles such as the one between Uber and Ola in India.

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