Weekly Brief: Amazon Braves Indian Protests With 10,000 E-Rickshaw Pledge

India is a tapestry of color, sound, smell and light.

It’s a mishmash of life. You can see anything and everything here and often do within a single block of Mumbai traffic, from cows to luxury cars to stray dogs to spice vendors with their pyramids of spices – cinnamon and coriander, cardamom and cumin – neatly arranged on the side of the road.

One thing you don’t expect to see is an electric rickshaw with the word Amazon emblazoned on the side. Yet, that’s what’s coming. Last week the e-commerce giant said that it would deploy a fleet of 10,000 electric rickshaws in India by 2025. The company made the announcement in an unconventional way. CEO Jeff Bezos released a video on Twitter of himself driving a rickshaw, followed by an army of Indian delivery men driving Amazon rickshaws behind him. If you haven’t seen the video yet it’s worth taking a look now not just to see billionaire Bezos behind the wheel of a rickshaw but to note the sharp contrast between his cackling laughter and the Indian drivers’ glum faces.

It’s a telling insight into the dynamics of the situation. Bezos has been traveling in India for the past week, deploying smiles and charm at every stop, while local workers and shopkeepers have been protesting his presence with signs that read “Jeff Bezos Go Back!” The Indian government responded to their protests with an antitrust investigation into Amazon’s practices, to see if it is illegally undercutting local businesses, as the protestors have alleged.

Whether locals want Amazon or not, Amazon plans to stay. The Indian e-commerce market is simply too attractive. Analysts expect the market value to grow from $32Bn in 2018 to $200Bn by 2026 and, currently, there are only two players vying for control: Amazon and Walmart-owned rival Flipkart. Flipkart holds a slight lead on Amazon when it comes to market share today, at 31.9% versus Amazon’s 31.2% but Bezos has signaled that he’s prepared to write all the cheques he needs to make Amazon the dominant force in Indian e-commerce. Last week he announced that Amazon will invest $1Bn into helping small and medium businesses in India go digital. He also said that Amazon plans to export $10Bn worth of Indian goods by 2025.

The fleet of electric rickshaws is the most important piece of the new plan because it addresses one of the largest challenges that Amazon faces in India – actually delivering retail items directly to customers’ doors. I mentioned the mayhem that prevails on many of India’s streets. That will only be exacerbated in the coming years because the country is in the midst of the largest rural-to-urban migration in human history. Mumbai is projected to have 42M residents by 2050. Delhi is expected to hit 36M, making those two cities the two most populous cities in the world.

Having control over its own fleet and figuring out how to navigate the labyrinthine home delivery sector will be one of Amazon’s biggest keys to success in India in the years ahead. It’s worth noting that Amazon’s rickshaw fleet will be in addition to its fleet of 100,000 electric delivery vans that Amazon order through Rivian last year, which was the largest purchase of light-duty electric vehicles in history. For more on electric vehicle fleets, check out Paul Myles’s coverage of Nissan, which sent 2,000 EVs to Uber in London last week.

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