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Virgin Hyperloop One seeing 'big interest' from Saudi investors, chairman says

Key Points
  • Ahmed bin Sulayem, Virgin Hyperloop One's newly appointed chairman, said there was "big interest in Hyperloop in Saudi Arabia."
  • Any talks over a Saudi deal with Virgin Hyperloop One will likely come after the completion of a project in India, he said.
  • Multiple firms are attempting to dominate the space with their own versions of hyperloop technology, first envisioned by Elon Musk in 2013.
'Big interest' in Virgin Hyperloop One in Saudi Arabia, chairman says

Virgin Hyperloop One, one of the best-known players developing the high-speed transportation technology, is attracting "big interest" from Saudi investors, the company's newly appointed chairman said Monday.

"There is a big interest in Hyperloop in Saudi Arabia," Ahmed bin Sulayem told CNBC's Dan Murphy in an interview Monday. "I think when the right time comes, we will restart talking to Saudi Arabia about their plans and how Hyperloop can fit in those plans," he added.

Sulayem is also group chairman and chief executive of Dubai-headquartered port operator DP World, which is a major investor in Virgin Hyperloop One. He was appointed as Richard Branson's successor shortly after the British billionaire departed his role as chairman of the firm.

Branson left the position last month, stating the company would need a "more hands-on" chairperson, and that it would be "difficult" for him to continue in the role due to constraints resulting from his work in philanthropy and Virgin Group's various business units.

The executive's exit from the company followed uncertainty around whether Virgin Hyperloop One would continue to conduct business with Saudi Arabia, owing to Branson distancing himself from the country after the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Branson suspended negotiations over a proposed $1 billion investment in Virgin's space companies, Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit, after Khashoggi's death.

Source: Hyperloop One

A Financial Times report last month added to that uncertainty, claiming that Saudi Arabia had cancelled a planned deal to conduct a feasibility study with Virgin Hyperloop One. However, this was later contradicted by a CNBC report that said the firm was still in talks with the Saudis to reach a deal.

For Sulayem's part, he said that any talks over a Saudi deal with Virgin Hyperloop One would likely come after the completion of a project in India. He said it was better to concentrate on "a project we have in hand" in India, and then look to push expansion into other markets.

"We had good discussions with Saudi Arabia and they had interest in utilizing Hyperloop," Sulayem said. "This is something we're going to discuss with them hopefully in the next few months."

Multiple firms are attempting to dominate the space with their own versions of hyperloop technology. The technology, which involves pods that are propelled through low-pressure tubes at ultra-fast speeds, was first envisioned by Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk in 2013.

Musk's SpaceX and The Boring Company are working to implement hyperloop systems in the U.S., while Hyperloop Transportation Technologies and TransPod are also competing to build their own versions of the technology.

Virgin Hyperloop One's Sulayem said the firm's technology was "very interesting" and "could transform really the way people travel en masse."

"The company has I think a good opportunity today because they have completed more than anyone else in this field and hopefully India will be the first one," he added. The company is also seeking to build its hyperloop transportation system in the United Arab Emirates. It also announced a deal with DP World earlier this year to form a hyperloop that transports cargo at ultra-fast speeds.

While still serving as Virgin Hyperloop One's chairman, Branson told CNBC last month that rides on the company's hyperloop would cost "no more than a high-speed trainline ticket."