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E-bikes in Indonesia and stormy skies for China's cloud giants

The inside story on the Asia tech trends that matter, from Nikkei Asia and the Financial Times

Hello, this is Akito from Singapore, where I've been thinking about electric vehicles - and how they fit into Southeast Asia's famously diverse markets.

In the extremely modern city state where I live, I see Tesla's latest EVs almost daily, along with top-of-the-line luxury cars from Germany, Japan and elsewhere.

But in neighboring Indonesia across the strait, motorcycles weaving through traffic are the transportation of choice for daily commutes and home deliveries.

We report below on the far-reaching EV plans of ride-hailing apps including Gojek, an Indonesian tech giant that has become one of the leading superapps in Southeast Asia since its launch in 2010. It takes its name from ojek, a two-wheeled bike whose rider could be hailed out of the chaotic traffic from a street corner in the cities of the archipelago.

Gojek is not the only regional company to find big opportunities on a local level. Tan Hooi Ling, co-founder of Southeast Asia's other superapp Grab, has said "hyper-localization" is the key to creating new businesses in the region.

Electrifying two-wheelers

A massive e-motorbike industry is emerging in Indonesia, writes Nikkei Asia's Erwida Maulia from Jakarta. Indonesia, one of the world's largest motorcycle markets, has set an ambitious goal of increasing the number of electric motorbikes on the road to 13 million by 2030, from around 12,000 last year.

Regional tech giants, sovereign wealth funds, and even a coal miner are entering the market to seize this vast opportunity. Indonesian coal company Indika Energy announced the establishment of electric motorcycle manufacturer Ilectra Motor Group in April.

Grab and Gojek, which changed Indonesia's transportation landscape with their ride-hailing apps, have also entered the fray. Gojek launched Electrum, a joint venture with local energy company TBS Energi Utama, to expand Indonesia's EV ecosystem. Singapore-based Grab placed an order for 6,000 electric motorcycles from Viar Motor Indonesia.

Analysts are upbeat about the future of electric motorbikes in Indonesia, in part because global auto giants' electric cars remain too expensive for local customers. However, one of them also says that "some local players without partnerships with well-established motorcycle manufacturers will face headwinds."

Lessons in sales

When Beijing barred for-profit companies and offshore listed companies from most tutoring activities last year -- ostensibly to reduce financial pressures on the country's middle class -- it dealt a heavy blow to New Oriental Education & Technology Group.

The company laid off tens of thousands of teachers working for its Koolern Technology online learning platform and posted a loss of $998.42 million for the nine months through February, writes Nikkei Asia's Cissy Zhou.

But things are looking a bit brighter of late. New Oriental Chairman Michael Yu has pivoted Koolern to a streaming sales platform and recruited former teachers as salespeople. Their unique mix of sales pitch and lessons -- talking about Shakespeare or teaching English while pitching food items, for example -- has proved a hit with consumers.

Darkening clouds

Growth has stagnated at the cloud computing divisions of tech giants Alibaba and Tencent, amid a slowdown in China's internet industry and rising competition from politically favored vendors, the Financial Times' Ryan McMorrow, Sun Yu and Tabby Kinder write.

The cloud slowdown represents a particularly thorny challenge for market leader Alibaba, which has repeatedly emphasized that the business is central to its future.

Former CFO Maggie Wu last year indicated its 50% year-on-year growth was sustainable, while CEO Daniel Zhang lauded cloud's "massive potential" and cited it as a "pillar of growth" for the company.

But the division's results have been less than stellar over the past 12 months. Ali Cloud's sales rose just 23% in the year to March 31, generating 75 billion yuan ($11 billion) of revenue and an operating loss of 5 billion yuan.

In comparison, American e-commerce giant Amazon's cloud business grew 38% in the same period, contributing $21 billion of operating income on $67 billion in sales.

'Hostage' no more

In the wake of the turmoil caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, India will spend $30 billion to overhaul the local tech industry and strengthen its supply chains. Gourangalal Das, India's top diplomat in Taiwan, told Nikkei Asia's Cheng Ting-Fang and Lauly Li that the aim is to ensure India is not "held hostage" to the vagaries of cross-border supply chains.

One of the strategies is to collaborate with Taiwan, where manufacturing technologies for critical devices such as semiconductors are concentrated. India is particularly keen to build up its chip industry, the diplomat said, with a focus on the production of "mature" chips used in a wide range of electronic products and electric vehicles. The battle over the latest cutting-edge chips will be left to others.

India also aims to increase its self-sufficiency in displays used in televisions and smartphones. While India does not yet have a tech supply chain like the U.S., EU, or Japan, Das says what his country does have is an abundance of tech talent and natural resources, plus a massive domestic market -- all things that will attract foreign investment, he argues.

The diplomat said India "will be patient and quite persistent" in building up its tech industry. Supply chains, after all, are not built in a day.

Suggested reads

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