Bhavish Aggarwal, CEO and co-founder of Ola, an app-based cab service provider, poses in front of an Ola cab in Mumbai. Photo: Reuters

Indian ride-sharing company Ola is waiting for regulatory approval to launch services in Australia’s crowded market after seeing off a tough challenge from US-based Uber in its own back yard.

Uber will again be the biggest threat in Australia, but the dynamics may change now that the two companies have common shareholders. Japan’s SoftBank has a 30% stake in Ola and this week led a consortium that bought 17% of Uber. SoftBank’s own share in Uber will be 15%.

Adding a bit more spice, SoftBank has also been buying up stock in Uber’s other main ride-sharing rivals in Asia, DiDi Chuxing of China and Singapore’s Grab. DiDi Chuxing has bought Uber’s China business.

There is speculation that Uber may eventually merge with Ola and exit India: Together they control about 90% of the US$15 billion market. Uber is believed to have a slight edge but operates in only 29 key cities, while Ola offers services in more than 100 cities and large towns, carrying an estimated 125 million passengers each year.

The Australian market, Ola’s first expansion outside India, will be a different proposition, as the Indian firm cannot rely on its homely mix of technological add-ons, including films and music, to attract riders.

Uber is already well entrenched in Australia: It carried 3.7 million passengers in the final three months of 2017 in 19 cities, a 400% increase from the same period two years earlier. Ola will also need to take market share from local company GoCatch and Europe’s Taxify company, which set up operations in Sydney only in December and has since expanded to Australia’s second-biggest city, Melbourne.

Assuming it wins approval, Ola will also start with these two cities and hopes to launch services in the next few months, Press Trust of India reported. There is speculation it may introduce electric vehicles.

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