Reliance AGM 2021: Why Mukesh Ambani Should Launch An EV Company

by Arihant Pawariya - Jun 24, 2021 08:59 AM
Reliance AGM 2021: Why Mukesh Ambani Should Launch An EV CompanyReliance Jio founder Mukesh Ambani. (Pradeep Gaur/Mint via Getty Images)
Snapshot
  • It’s time Reliance launched an EV company and did a Jio-like revolution in this space.

    It makes all the more sense given Ambani’s focus on transforming Reliance into a tech behemoth because, in future, differentiation in vehicle companies is going to be essentially about tech.

Reliance’s 2020 Annual General Meeting (AGM) was perhaps one of the most important ones if not the most important in the company‘s history.

Though Mukesh Ambani has been talking about ‘data as the new oil’ for many years, and he backed those words with actions by launching Jio which was nothing short of a second telecom revolution which democratised Internet access by making 4G data prices cheapest in the world, many perhaps thought that was the extent of his vision.

2020 AGM belied those expectations when Ambani made a series of announcements which gave a glimpse of Reliance’s future plans to transform itself from an oil and chemical first business to tech-first one. Most important among those were Jio developing indigenous 5G technology, partnering with Google to develop a new Android-based operating system for its cheap smartphones and its foray into mixed reality (MR) with ‘Jio Glass’.

I had written last year that the last one stands shoulders above the rest because of future potential of this tech which is why world’s tech giants like Apple, Google, Facebook and Microsoft have been investing billions of dollars in the last one decade to launch their own Glass, AVR, Occult and HaloLens respectively which are in various stages of development. The importance of winning the MR race cannot be emphasised enough.

That’s not all. Think of any use case of tech in our lives and Ambani is going for that. It’s already the country’s largest telecom player. It’s working on its own smartphones and laptops. It’s building its own operating system. In partnership with Facebook, it’s in the process of developing its own messaging cum payments app that will be a boon for its designs to be an e-commerce giant which is already causing tensions with Amazon.

It’s also tasked teams to build a product like Apple TV which will not only compete with Apple but also the likes of Netflix, Disney-Hotstar, Prime Video et al thanks to Jio studios and its Network18 group, a media company. On top of all that, Reliance is also pumping money in its ed-tech startup Embibe.

Basically, Ambani is trying to make Reliance into Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, Byju’s, Netflix, Disney — all combined and then some more. Think of the techno world as a pyramid. Ambani’s vision is to own everything in this sphere from foundation and lowest tier being the airwaves that enable the Internet via 5G to every possible use case you can think of on the top.

India is essentially looking at consuming Reliance’s entertainment to education to doing shopping via a Reliance product (smartphone, laptop, Glass) which runs on Reliance operating system and all made possible by Reliance 5G technology. Of course, this requires extraordinary efforts and it’s highly likely that Reliance will fail in many of these areas but success in a few would be enough to leapfrog it into the league of world’s biggest tech companies.

Surprisingly, there is one important missing element in Reliance’s techno-world that it is envisioning to build: electric vehicles (EVs). One is not simply saying that because Elon Musk became world’s richest man on the back of Tesla alone and Ambani could too if he paid attention to this fledgling segment but because EVs are going to be essentially about tech five or 10 years down the line.

Currently, the chief struggle with EVs is about increasing energy density of battery packs which means they take less space, weigh less and go longer distances, lowering prices, improving performance and durability of packs and so on.

Tesla has done wonders to the psychology of people who have always thought of EVs as inferior products thanks to earlier subpar offerings by traditional car companies. It’s also been successful in creating a product with range after single charge almost at par with petrol cars. More importantly, the pricing in the US is only marginally higher for its lowest offering Model S than where the mass market is.

Still, it’s not perfect and it would take time before prices can be lowered even further or range can be increased for the same cost (another criticism is that it’s not as luxurious as other cars in the same price range). But what Tesla lacks in these areas, it more than makes up for it in the tech department. It has a massive and impressive display on the car dashboard which works like an Apple iPad and is laced with features that no other car company comes close to. This is because most of them build features around the car while Tesla builds car around its tech - (semi) self-driving mode using AI being the most consequential of all.

Once the battery related limitations are sorted in a few years (primarily pricing and range done right), EVs will be all about tech whether its the features connected to the car or the self-driving aspect of it.

Just like it’s with Android, Windows and iOS, the main debate will move to which car company’s operating system is better, which has less glitches, which one has more functions, whose AI technology is better and so on. Given all this, it’s unfathomable for Reliance to not jump into this and start an EV company (EV is more than cars. The whole trucking industry can be revolutionised by electric trucks).

It’s not that Reliance is not doing anything on this front. Ambani has plans to make Reliance not only a tech-first company but also to fundamentally change the nature of its energy focus too — from oil to renewables.

In this regard, the company has set itself a goal to turn into a net carbon zero entity by 2035.

At 2020 AGM, Ambani had said, “We will develop next-gen carbon capture and storage technologies, where we are evaluating novel catalytic and electrochemical transformation to use (the) carbon emitted as a valuable feedstock”.

It is also setting up EV charging stations in Mumbai. Earlier this year, Reliance said in its filing with the stock exchanges that it “will further accelerate its new energy and new materials business towards its vision of clean and green energy development.”

However, Reliance’s plans as of yet sound "a lot like Elon Musk’s Tesla minus the electric vehicles".

One hopes that it changes soon and Reliance launches an EV company that revolutionises the space like Jio has done in the telecom sector.

Arihant Pawariya is Senior Editor, Swarajya.
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