The Emirates' hyperloop and other unknown unknowns

'Last week I joined our colleagues from the Dubai office as we flew across the region: Kuwait and Bahrein in the north and Oman, Dubai and Abu Dhabi further south. The latter is actually the capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), while Dubai is one of the other 6 emirates making up the UAE. They gained independence from the UK as recently as 1971 and have some 8.8 million inhabitants.'

Jeroen Plag

A blog by Jeroen Plag, head of Client Coverage Americas, Asia & UK, ING, on a business trip in the United Arab Emirates.

Abu Dhabi is known for its natural resources and sovereign wealth funds, and the decor for the latest ‘Fast & Furious’ movie, while Dubai is known for the 7 star hotel Burj Al Arab, indoor skiing, and a whole other host of ‘largest in the world’ items. Soon to be added is the 'fastest connection' to Abu Dhabi, or any other part of the region as Elon Musk was in town last week. And when his hyperloop plans go ahead, we will be able to travel from Dubai to Fujairah, one of the other 7 emirates, in 10 minutes. The 108-kilometer drive currently takes more than 2 and a half hours (!) while the 304-kilometer trip from Abu Dhabi to Qatar would be possible in just 22 minutes. Unclear for now is when the hyperloop could be operational as well as the cost of construction. Critics claim that the construction costs of the hyperloop plans between LA and San Francisco would be a whopping USD 650 million per kilometre - so hopefully the price of oil goes up again soon, so the UAE can afford to finance such a futuristic project.

Oil prices and the recent US election developments were topics of discussion with both local and international clients we met with. The complete surprise election for Donald Trump had various impacts already, on interest rates and oil prices. Unknown unknowns, in the other Donald (Rumsfeld) speak, are the situations around Iran and how the new president-elect will deal with the conflicts in the Middle East. While in Kuwait and Bahrein we discussed several new infrastructure projects, both in the region and internationally, and in Abu Dhabi we learned of large scale layoffs, as projects are being put on hold. A continuing trend around the region is the overseas investment via the sovereign wealth funds, an interesting opportunity matching our capabilities in real estate, solar and wind energy and other sector related project financing.

Plag blog 11 16 in art image

With innovation high on our agenda, I bumped into Pepper at one of the Dubai-based banks. The very friendly little white robot answered all my questions on the product offering, electronic banking and opening hours. Although staff was available to guide me in asking Pepper the right questions (!), all real transactions were executed by the bank’s clients via their ATM set up - making deposits, opening an account, and taking cash obviously. Another Kuwait bank offered a chance to win a Range Range Evoque, an incentive for new clients to switch their salary account - interesting and innovative marketing, beats offering an iPad or an orange toy lion! You can also win the same car, via a lottery, at Dubai airport - just to keep transit tourists entertained during their stop over.

Driving from Dubai to Abu Dhabi reminded me of the daredevils in ‘Fast & Furious’, as the official speed limit of 120 kilometres is not really kept to here, we were taken over on both sides while our driver kept to the limit in the middle. Definitely the hyperloop is a faster, but more importantly, safer alternative. Taking over on both sides is allowed on Sunday, during the last Formula 1 race of the season, keen to see how Max will be doing during the last race this year in Formula 1; will he excel again like he did in Brazil?!?

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