After last year’s bruising retreat from China, where the company was outgunned by local incumbent Didi Chuxing, Uber is diving fully into this nation of 1.3 billion people, pouring money, engineers and logistical expertise into dominating what could one day be the world’s largest market for transportation services.

Uber is famously aggressive, and that trait shines through in its ambitions for India. Relatively few people own cars here, so Uber’s long-term goal is to leapfrog Western-style car-ownership culture and move directly into a society where people don’t buy cars, they hail Ubers.

India is also where Uber’s vision of itself as a lean software company has come crashing into the sobering realities of analog life in a rapidly developing country. Its aim of blanketing the world in hail-able cars remains complex and daunting.

“The way to think about it is that India is a super-important place in the world that has huge cities, with huge transportation needs, that we want to serve,” Mr. Kalanick said in an interview. “We want to be there, and want to be there in a big way.”


Workers at an office of Ola, Uber’s well-funded rival, in Bangalore.
Workers at an office of Ola, Uber’s well-funded rival, in Bangalore. © Atul Loke for The New York Times


It’s not just the roads. India’s cellular networks can be spotty and slow, and banking, credit cards and other financial mainstays cannot be taken for granted. More than that, vast differences in education and wealth create a social dynamic between riders and drivers that cannot be smoothed over by improving an app interface.

Not only are many of Uber’s drivers here unfamiliar with smartphones, some are illiterate. Often, drivers and riders don’t speak the same language. Many drivers need financial help to purchase or lease cars, and then require continuing help to manage their finances and other details of their small businesses.

On top of all this is competition. Uber faces an aggressive and well-funded Indian rival, Ola Cabs, which operates in 100 cities and offers a wider range of services than Uber does.

Both Uber and Ola argue that the long-term payoff for their efforts in India could be transformative. Ride sharing is already changing Indian urban life; getting around cities has become cheaper and safer, especially for women. It is also altering life for hundreds of thousands of drivers, many of whom are drawn from India’s poorest ranks.

Yet Uber’s quest toward remaking transportation in India, which the company sees as a template for other developing nations, is bound to be long, expensive and complicated. Uber said on Friday that it lost $2.8 billion in 2016. The company did not break out losses in India, but Mr. Kalanick said the company’s investment here is “an order of magnitude lower” than the spending on its misadventure in China.

“We are not profitable in any of the cities we’re in now,” Amit Jain, the president of Uber India, said in a phone interview. “We have a path to get there, and we are confident we will.”