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Let’s Co-Create 

In Focus
NAME:Akihiro Ueda
COMPANY:Terra Motors
LOCATION:Tokyo, Japan
Akihiro Ueda, CEO of Japan’s Terra Motors, doesn’t think of other companies manufacturing electric vehicles as competitors; they’re all working toward establishing a new industry.

When Akihiro Ueda became CEO of Terra Motors in 2019, the electric vehicle (EV) company based its growth strategy on the anticipated long-term trend away from gas-powered engines.

But for Ueda, simply waiting for the market to get bigger didn’t go far enough. He wanted Terra to become more active in building and shaping the EV industry as a whole.

“Before I came in, the approach was: the EV sector is going to grow in the future, so let’s do that. But I decided that we should connect the dots and make this into an ecosystem,” he recalls.

“Since we are in a new industry, we need to be connected to a lot of services and stakeholders. We need a mid-term and long-term vision for the EV sector.”

“Since we are in a new industry, we need to be connected to a lot of services and stakeholders. We need a mid-term and long-term vision for the EV sector.”

Terra Motors was founded in Japan in 2010 and has a footprint in India, Nepal and Taiwan, from which it sells to several other Asian countries. In India, the company has plants in Kolkata and Guwahati and specializes in electric tuk-tuk-style taxis. It also offers a cargo transport vehicle and makes battery-powered mopeds, scooters and motorcycles.

More recently, Terra has started offering financing products to help its customers buy its products.

“Before, we were only a designer and manufacturer of two-wheel and three-wheel EVs, which are mainly used in Asia,” Ueda admits.

“However, once we started doing business, we noticed a lot of pieces lacking. For example, the finance side – if you want to purchase a vehicle, you often have to have a loan, but that kind of scheme was not there. And then what about the infrastructure? What about the ride-sharing app platforms? All those things were not there.

“But my vision was not to create it all by myself. I tried to tie up with a lot of partners, and then we started building the ecosystem together. That concept was not there before I joined.”

Chasing Opportunities

Ueda began his career at the Japanese electronics giant Sharp – a role that eventually took him to the United Arab Emirates, where he worked on expanding the company’s Middle East and Africa business. He joined Terra Motors in 2015 as the Director of Sales Marketing in Bangladesh, and went on to manage three countries before being promoted to CEO.

Ueda believes he was able to succeed at Terra so quickly because of a culture that prioritized ability and leadership aptitude above all else.

“For me, it was a huge opportunity because this company gives responsibility to the people who can actually do what’s needed, regardless of their age,” he reveals.

“If you are young or if you’re not experienced, it doesn’t matter. If you bring good results and you have the capacity to carry on doing it, the company will give you the opportunity to do so.”

The role has also given Ueda the opportunity to meet top officials in Japan and abroad. “I’m meeting a lot of government people and top management in different companies. Our sector is very important when it comes to building smart cities, so there is a lot of interest in what we do from high-up officials.”

Because of that high level of interest from governments looking to reduce pollution and cut carbon emissions, the EV industry currently enjoys a variety of subsidies. That, Ueda says, is something that manufacturers must not take for granted when establishing medium- and long-term goals.

“If you bring good results and you have the capacity to carry on doing it, the company will give you the opportunity to do so.”

“Strategically speaking, in the short-term there are no major challenges,” he declares. “In India, for example, the two-wheeler and four-wheeler market is booming.

“However, this is thanks to subsidies from the government. If there were no subsidies, it would be very difficult for the industry to grow. What would happen if the subsidies ended? People don’t want to think about it.”

That is yet another reason why Ueda sees it as vital for EV stakeholders to join together and build the industry – to help it to reach a level of growth where costs begin to come down due to economies of scale.

“We are creating an industry together. We might be working closely with a finance partner and giving them good business, and then they might go and talk to another person and say, ‘There’s this company called Terra Motors and it’s going well with them,’” he says.

“So, if I do right by a stakeholder in the industry, they will recommend us to others and these relationships will benefit everyone in building up the industry.”

Triple Win

Ueda’s dedication to fostering a sense of shared purpose in the EV industry is the reason he prefers not to think of other companies serving the market as competitors.

“Actually, the Japanese word for competition has another meaning: co-creation,” he points out.

“In the EV industry, the current paradigm means that I really cannot do things by myself. So I’m not here to compete or to fight with you. Let’s make this industry together, let’s co-create. This is really working out well. We have a lot of friends within the industry these days.”

Another key element to building a successful industry, according to Ueda, is making sure that the business case for EVs is made just as strongly as the sustainability case. While the potential environmental benefits of battery-powered engines are compelling, that can only take businesses so far.

“The Japanese word for competition has another meaning: co-creation.”

“Sustainability and being eco-friendly is always very important. But I don’t believe that is enough. There also needs to be an economic incentive. If there is no sustainable business model in that area, then it’s not going to be sustainable in either sense,” he reflects.

“So it’s a tricky line to walk – it has to be good for society but also good for all of the stakeholders. When I talk about sustainability, I’m always thinking how we can make this continue so all stakeholders are happy. How can we make this a win–win–win situation?”

“As a strategic partner of Terra Motors, we are proud to contribute to its success through our advanced drivetrain products and technology. It has been an enjoyable experience working with Terra Motors and we look forward to jointly creating a greener world.” – Manish Seth, CEO, Volektra
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