Elon Musk is facing a challenge from Asia’s richest man Mukesh Ambani in India⁠— both in energy and transportation

Elon Musk is facing a challenge from Asia’s richest man Mukesh Ambani in India⁠— both in energy and transportation
Reliance Industries' chairman Mukesh Ambani (L) is creating a challenge for billionaire Elon Musk's (R) entry into IndiaBCCL/BI India
  • Indian billionaire Mukesh Ambani has upped the stakes with an investment of $25.76 million in skyTran, acquiring a majority stake.
  • skyTran, not unlike Elon Musk’s Hyperloop, used the power of magnets to offer a carbon emissions-free of travelling faster within urban cities.
  • Hyperloop already has three projects going in India — Mumbai to Pune, Bengaluru Airport connectivity, and Delhi to Chandigarh.
A battle of the billionaires is unfolding in India between Asia’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani and founder of SpaceX and Tesla, Elon Musk.

Ambani’s Reliance Industries has acquired a US-based transportation company developing pod taxis, that the conglomerate initially invested in three years ago, through its subsidiary Reliance Strategic Business Ventures.

Both skyTran and Musk’s Hyperloop are in the business of making pod taxis. Also called personal rapid transit (PRT), these are a type of small public transport facility that feature small automated vehicles that operate within a network of specially built tracks.

Elon Musk is facing a challenge from Asia’s richest man Mukesh Ambani in India⁠— both in energy and transportation
SkyTran's pod taxis for intra-city transportSkyTran

Hyperloop and skyTran taxis use the power of magnets to move around at speeds that can theoretically reach upto 240 kilometres per hour.

Hyperloop, already, has three projects in the works within India. One connecting Mumbai to Pune, another increasing the connectivity to the Bangalore International Airport and the latest endeavour to connect Chandigarh to India’s capital city, New Delhi.

Elon Musk is facing a challenge from Asia’s richest man Mukesh Ambani in India⁠— both in energy and transportation
Elon Musk-owned Virgin Hyperloop One's pod for the Mumbai-Pune connectivity projectVirgin Hyperloop One

“skyTran has developed breakthrough passive magnetic levitation and propulsion technology for implementing personal transportation systems aimed at solving the problem of traffic congestion globally,” said Reliance in its regulatory filing.

This comes within days of Ambani announcing that he will make batteries for electric vehicles ahead of the boom resonating with Musk’s plans with Tesla. While Tesla makes its lionshare of revenue from the actual cars, Musk has invested in energy generation and storage in a big way.

Musk had earlier revealed that his company may set up a Gigafactory within India once it starts manufacturing electrical vehicles in India. Its office is already set up in Bangalore with plans for a manufacturing plant soon to follow, according to reports.

skyTran vs Hyperloop
The idea to introduce pod taxis in India was led by Minister for Road Transport and Highways, Nitin Gadkari, in 2016.

A year later, in 2017, a panel headed by Indian government’s policy think tank NITI Aayog cleared the ministry’s proposal to test three rapid transport systems using pod taxis. The short-listed candidates were New Zealand’s Metrino Personal Rapid Transit, UK’s Ultra Global PRT and US-based skyTran.

Ultra Global uses rubber tyres that run on specially made tracks and Metrino’s pods are suspended from overhead rails. Of the three, skyTran is the only one that uses magnetic levitation to move pod taxis from point to point, making it the only competitor to Hyperloop’s hopes in India.

Rather than typing up with the central government, Hyperloop chose to work on projects with state governments. It has been working with the Maharashtra government to build the world’s first commercial Hyperloop corridor running between Pune and Mumbai. The Musk-owned enterprise is also working on increasing connectivity to the Bangalore Airport.

In November last year, Hyperloop had a major breakthrough. It successfully carried two humans through a tube in one of its magnetically levitated pods at 160 kilometers per hour.

Both of these companies may use magnetically levitating taxis to bet on the future but there is a key difference in the application of their respective technologies.

Hyperloop is great for travelling longer distances, more between cities than within the city itself. skyTran, on the other hand, is focused on intra-city transport.

Reliance started out by acquiring 12.7% of skyTran in October 2018. Next year, in November 2019, ir raised its stake to 17.37%,. By April 2020, Reliance put in a third tranche of investment to bring its stake up to 26.3%.

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