Stock - Ashok Leyland
The Hinduja Group has been operating an Ashok Leyland bus and commercial vehicle assembling facility in Ras Al Khaimah since 2008. Now, the group wants to see if it can make the same impact with electric-powered ones. Image Credit: Bloomberg

Dubai: The $50 billion Hinduja Group will start testing demand in the UAE for electric-powered buses and light commercial vehicles – and build on the gains already established with its fuel-run vehicles. Last year, in July, the Mumbai-headquartered Group made its entry into the EV space with the launch of Switch Mobility.

A top Hinduja official reckons that government incentives given for a transition to electric transportation could help. “In India and the UK, we already have a good order book for 5,000 electric buses and around 2,500 light vehicles,” said Dheeraj Hinduja, Executive Chairman of a Group that had its origins in 1914 and has in the 100 plus years since built up a globe-straddling business empire built around oil refining, automotive manufacturing and, increasingly, in financial services.

“The UAE would be a great market to get into for the EV range – whether that means shipping our vehicles from India or the UK needs to be tested. All of that will depend on the price points, the demand, and all the rest of it."

If all goes well, have an assembling facility right here in the UAE.

And if the demand is there, the Group could then consider an assembly line at its existing Ras Al Khaimah operations, which makes ‘Ashok Leyland’ branded buses and other vehicles. In fact, the Group’s automotive interests was built around Ashok Leyland, one of the biggest names in its category. The creation of Switch Mobility was brought about by merging the electric vehicle operations of Ashok Leyland with that of UK-based Optare, which the Group had acquired.

The facility in Ras Al Khaimah is operating at full capacity, bolstered by the latest win for 1,400 fuel-powered buses. “Ashok Leyland is the brand of first choice for local and Gulf-wide school and staff transport needs,” said Dheeraj, whose father Gopichand along with his siblings – Srichand, Prakash and Ashok – are consistently ranked among the UK’s wealthiest.

“If we do build an EV (assembly) facility in the UAE, it will still be in RAK. That makes better sense for us because we have an extensive vendor base supplying our existing operations.”

The RAK facility was commissioned in 2008, assembling about 1,000 buses and the capacity kept getting added to. Currently, it’s at a full capacity, helped by the latest 1,400-unit deal.

UAE is a ‘core market’

The point that Dheeraj wants to make is that the Group is not a recent entrant into the local marketplace. Apart from Ashok Leyland, another key component of the Group – Gulf Oil – has been represented in the Middle East for decades.

“With the Ras Al Khaimah facility, we are very much part of the ‘Make in UAE’ initiative,” said the Executive Chairman. “And we are open to all the support the government can give us in expanding the UAE’s green agenda. This is what we hope to achieve by creating that demand for electric-powered buses.

“The UAE – along with the UK, which is home for our family, the US and India – are definitely the places where we can keep expanding.”

No stopping India ambitions

India is where the Group is plugging its aspirations for solar and renewable energy in a big way, and which would in time open up quite a sizeable revenue stream. (The clean energy space is also drawing the attention of India’s other corporate titans, notably Gautam Adani.)

“India continues to grow at 6-7 per cent and that cannot be overlooked,” said Dheeraj. “We will keep parking investments in core sectors.” (Financial services, including housing finance, is one area that the Group is making headway with.)

Stok - Hinduja Brothers
The Brothers Hinduja - Gopichand, Srichand, Prakash and Ashok - continue to straddle geographies and industries in expanding the reach of their business empire. Recent forays have been into renewable energy and further expansion in financial services. Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

Not directly into ecommerce

By the looks of it, the Hinduja conglomerate will stick with what’s tangible in adding more layers to its vast interests. That means no direct role in ecommerce, however tempting the opportunities ot there might be.

“We are more comfortable being in what we have done best,” said Dheeraj. “Whether its transportation or some of the other categories we are in, there is a big requirement, which I think has to do with a shift in demand patterns post-Covid. That keep us comfortable, and we will remain a solutions provider for ecommerce and not be directly in it.”