Buttressing U.S.-India Relations

For too long, the U.S. has been going from crisis to crisis: Iran, North Korea, and Syria. Because India is a large, stable democracy, there is sometimes a sense that the U.S. can buttress relations with India, later, after the “crisis of the moment” is over. That’s not good enough. We need a broad-based partnership that should be viewed and built in the context of U.S.-Asia Pacific relations. Why?

According to the United States Pacific Command (USPACOM), “There are few regions as culturally, socially, economically, and geopolitically diverse as the Asia-Pacific. The 36 nations comprising the Asia-Pacific region are home to more than 50% of the world’s population, 3,000 different languages, several of the world’s largest militaries, and five nations allied with the U.S. through mutual defense treaties. Two of the three [now top three] largest economies are located in the Asia-Pacific, along with ten of the fourteen smallest. The [Asia-Pacific region] includes the most populous nation in the world, the largest democracy, and the largest Muslim-majority nation. More than one-third of Asia-Pacific nations are smaller, island nations, including the smallest republic in the world and the smallest nation in Asia…. The region is a vital driver of the global economy and includes the world’s busiest international sea lanes and nine of the ten largest ports. The Asia-Pacific is also a heavily militarized region…. Given these conditions, the strategic complexity facing the region is unique.”

“Unique” is an understatement, which is why we need to deepen U.S.-India relations in a more thoughtful way. While protection of intellectual copyright, human rights, religious freedom, high tariff rates and localization barriers are very important, Congress should not use these issues to divide us. The U.S. and India have shared interests, and our shared interests should take center stage – at home and abroad. Whatever differences there are between us, India is the world’s largest democracy. America is the oldest. Democracy ought to be the glue that forges us. As Sir Winston Churchill once said, “Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

The same can be said of the U.S.-India relationship. No one pretends that it is perfect. But it just might exceed our expectations if we reshape our thoughts and actions. And so, in a new series of postings, this blog will put forth step-by-step ways about how we can buttress our relationship beyond security-related posturing, though security is and should be an essential component of our partnership. So should a U.S.-India Investment treaty and sensible dialogue on people mobility. Our partnership has the potential to influence regional and global policy-making, and it’s high-time we make a hard push for a special relationship between the U.S. and India.

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Self-Driving Cars: On a Slick Track to Success

It’s a high-speed race with a fast groove – way too soon to know who will be King. Ford, GM, Telsa, and Waymo are running tail to nose. Uber is kicking up dirty air. Like the Million Dollar Bill – a name given Bill Elliot, the first driver to win three out of four wins on the major speedways of NASCAR – the self-driving car race is inevitable and disruptive. The technology is, too. Apple CEO Tim Cook rightfully calls the self-driving car the mother of all AI.

According to Brookings (October 2017), more than $80 billion and counting has been invested in the autonomous vehicles industry. In fact, Brookings states, “Investment in self-driving cars appears to be the leading edge for AI development.” Ford, GM, Waymo (the self-driving unit of Alphabet, Google’s parent company), Uber and Telsa are revving up innovation and employing full-on testing and technologies that are rapidly changing the way we think about motorin’. The U.S. Congress is making up time, holding hearings and introducing legislation to pump the brakes until the feds and States can “address the incompatibility of old regulations written before the advent of self-driving vehicles” (Congressional Research, 9/2017). But, States like running their own streets.

And so, Ford is bringing two types of robot cars to Miami – research vehicles and self-driving delivery cars. Ford will also test its Transportation Mobility Cloud in the city. Ford has invested 7% of its total workforce into the Smart Mobility Group – and it is paying off. However, instead of consumer vehicles, most of Ford’s efforts are concentrated on commercial transportation. But, at any time, it just may be effortless for Ford to transfer its technology to the consumer market.

GM has tested its vehicles in California, Michigan, and Arizona. In 2016, GM had driven 9,668 miles with a 34-mile disengagement rate (where humans take control). Last year, GM showcased the autonomous Chevrolet Bolt in San Francisco. The company developed its technology through its subsidiary Cruise Automation. In the coming years, General Motors autonomous vehicles will not have any steering or pedals. Thinking ahead, GM launched a car-sharing service called Maven – in part to offset any revenue loss between traditional and autonomous car purchases. GM is planning to deploy driverless cabs by 2019. In January 2018, GM submitted a petition to the US Department of Transportation (USDOT) to seek permission for its driverless fleets.

Waymo, a top contender from the beginning for self-driving cars technology, has 5 million self-driven miles under its belt. Waymo is testing in Phoenix, Arizona and planning on starting a driverless ride sharing app in California. Waymo is the first self-driving car company to deliver a safety report to the U.S. Department of Transportation. The company has reached a deal with Fiat-Chrysler to buy thousands of Chrysler Pacifica minivans for its driverless, ride-hailing service to be launched later this year. In addition to the Pacifica, Waymo has tested self-driving technology with the Toyota Prius, Audi TT, and Lexus RX450h. Waymo uses Light Detection and Ranging (LiDaR) – a key component of self-driving cars that helps them see the environment. The system is at SAE level 5 autonomy. But, even after Waymo’s technology is ready, the company may face challenges in creating a sustainable business model since Waymo is not a professional car company and does not have expertise in manufacturing cars. Waymo’s success will depend on its ability to market its technology – and that may be more than enough.

Uber is also a player and stakeholder in the automobile market and the self-driving field. In 2016, it had driven more than 1 million miles. However, Uber has both legal and public perception issues. Uber had been sued by Waymo for copyright infringement of LiDar technology until the suit was recently settled. Uber was also involved in a fatal self-driving crash that killed a pedestrian in Phoenix.
Jaguar Land Rover is also taking its self-driving cars to the streets – testing in the UK – with British politicians committed to supporting a market estimated to be worth “1.2 trillion by 2025,” according to Digital Trends.

At home and abroad – in China, Europe, the UK, and the US – the field is hot – among major and minor racers. And States like Arizona, Florida, Tennessee – and yes, Michigan – are driving the slick track to success – with the federal government in slow motion pursuit.


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Uber, well-known for its aggressive marketing worldwide, has recently retreated from their global vision after battling with local competitors:

  • In China: Uber sold its holdings to competitor Didi Chuxing after a long marketing battle with them; and
  • In Russia: Uber scaled back operations and holds a minority stake in a new partnership with Yandex, Russia’s answer to Google.

This trend suggests Uber is being pushed out of emerging economies such as China and Russia due to a number of factors:

  • Lack of cultural insight and local expertise
  • Inability to infiltrate pre-existing competitors
  • Governments hostile to U.S. business; and
  • Consumer preference for ‘home grown’ companies.

Uber has also been aggressively marketing in India, stating that “India is a global priority market [for us] and our second-largest after the U.S. in terms of [total] trips.” The way that Uber operates in India is a bit different than how it operates in the U.S.—i.e., transactions can be cash-based, cars are typically owned by a transportation contractor and drivers work full-time.

Will Uber stay competitive with its India competitor Ola? Uber has been slow to assimilate within India’s transport industry and unable to penetrate key cities as quickly. Ola’s auto-rickshaw service is a trusted brand within the market due to its availabilty and reliability.

In India recently both Ola and Uber reduced incentives for drivers. The result was many drivers going on strike. Going forward a viable option may be for Ola to purchase Uber’s local market share enabling reduced operating cost and an increased price point for the combined entity.




Uber in India is fundamentally different from Uber in the West



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U.S.-India trade has grown to $115billion. The U.S. is India’s top export partner while India remains the America’s 9th largest trading partner. Growth in exports, imports, and Foreign Direct Investment remains steady but is dependent on defense, Tech, commodities, and garment sectors. A number of adjustments are imminent, particularly in Tech, due to technological and political headwinds.

Agriculture technology (agtech) is a high impact growth segment of modern technology. In the midst of India’s Decade of Innovation, it is critical to focus on the opportunities in agtech. By doing so the economic interests of nationalist leaders with slogans like “Make in India” and “America First” can be realized through job creation in both nations.

India requires expertise in finding more efficient methods for food storage, processing and packaging, distribution, yield per farm and other advancements that the U.S., with its technological prowess, can provide through:

  • Big Data
  • AI/Machine learning
  • Drones; and
  • Robotics

The growing demand for natural/organic food lifestyles has led to alternatives to meats, milk, eggs, and other animal-based food products. Retailers such as Whole Foods, Trader Joes, Harris Teeter, Aldi, and Wegmans reflect this growth. India can leverage its historic use of plants and herbs for food to help lead the health food trend while expanding trade within America’s food and nutraceutical market.

India’s investors should be encouraging its start-up sector to expand in the nutraceutical-health-food sector, using its proprietary advantage, versus American commodity businesses–e.g. Ola for Uber, Flipkart for Amazon, Paytm for PayPal, etc. How about an Indian-based Beyond Meat, Blue Apron or Honest Tea, all unicorns with billion dollar valuations?

By focusing on its strengths and creating intellectual property around trending consumer demand for agtech, healthy food and nutraceuticals, Indian companies will experience huge growth opportunities.





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