Another chapter in Uber’s global ambitions closed this week with the news that the ride-hailing giant was folding its Southeast Asia business into Grab, retaining a 27.5 percent stake in the new business that spans Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Myanmar.
Singapore’s competition watchdog is scrutinizing the merger, but the move illustrates a broader trend as Uber focuses on fights it can win and forms alliances when it can’t. In 2016, the San Francisco-based company sold its Chinese arm to local etaxi giant Didi Chuxing in a $35 billion deal. Rumors emerged this week that Uber is looking at further consolidation in India, where Ola currently leads the ride-hailing market.
A common thread permeates these stories. Japanese technology giant SoftBank, now a venture capital powerhouse in its own right, has invested in all the aforementioned companies — including Uber. SoftBank was said to have played a pivotal role in pushing for the merger between Uber and Grab.
Uber has raised more than $20 billion in funding since its inception as it has worked to bring its service to nearly every market on Earth. But an inability to scale and localize quickly enough in certain markets has left more than enough room for local players to gain traction and fend off Uber’s advances. That is why the company has elected to consolidate in problematic markets — evidenced again last year when Uber joined forces with Yandex.taxi in Eastern Europe.
We’re seeing a similar pattern emerge in Latin America. SoftBank invested in Brazil-based ride-hailing app 99 last year before China’s Didi — which, remember, counts SoftBank as an investor — bought 99 outright. For context, Uber is the leading ride-hailing app in Brazil, with São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro Uber’s two biggest cities globally in terms of number of rides.
Some 4,000 miles north, Mexico is another of Uber’s most profitable markets and one in which it claims a near monopoly on ride-sharing. However, those pesky deep-pocketed spoilsports at Didi are planning to mix things up a little with plans to launch Didi’s first international service out of Mexico City this year. Didi raised $4 billion in December, just eight months after raising $5.5 billion and a year after a $7.3 billion raise from some big-name backers, including Apple. Didi has raised around $20 billion in funding, which offers some indication of its clout.
Last February, German automobile giant Daimler — via its MyTaxi ride-hailing offshoot — acquired Greece’s Taxibeat, primarily to challenge Uber in Europe. Taxibeat also currently operates in Peru, and Daimler’s MyTaxi told VentureBeat last year that it plans to invest in expanding that operation across Latin America, though at the time of writing that expansion appears to be limited to Chile. Related to this, Daimler and fellow German car giant BMW announced plans to merge their ride-hailing units earlier this week in a bid to challenge Uber and similar services globally.
Put simply, a lot of big companies are becoming increasingly invested in technology-based urban mobility services.
Uber faces challengers in most of its markets, including the U.S. and Europe. The gloves are also coming off in the Middle East and Africa, with Didi already invested in Dubai-based Careem — which operates across more than a dozen markets — as part of a broader strategic partnership. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that Latin America will be the next big battleground for Uber.
The company gained a lot of early traction through first-mover advantage, but where SoftBank and Didi’s dollars exist, Uber can expect a tough time not only expanding its service but retaining its existing hold.
With that in mind, Central and South America seem like the next obvious regions for Uber’s consolidation efforts. But speaking about Uber’s recent merger with Grab, CEO Dara Khosrowshahi suggested that the company’s future growth will be organic rather than through M&A.
“It is fair to ask whether consolidation is now the strategy of the day, given this is the third deal of its kind, from China to Russia and now Southeast Asia,” he said in an email to employees. “The answer is no.”
“While M&A will always be an important value-creation tool for our company, going forward we will be focused on organic growth — growth that comes from building the best products, services, and technology in the world and re-building our brand into the mobility brand that riders, cities, and drivers want to support and partner with,” he added.
The bottom line is that Uber is facing a major battle in at least two of core markets with a combined population of more than 300 million people. Didi is already reportedly poaching management staff from Uber in Mexico, and Didi’s money will go a long way toward testing Uber’s resolve there, in Brazil, and likely elsewhere too.
As a side point, São Paulo-based Easy Taxi operates across a number of Latin American markets, including Argentina, Mexico, Bolivia, Panama, Brazil, Peru, and Chile, in addition to a handful of markets elsewhere. Easy Taxi has yet to garner the attentions of SoftBank, Didi, or Uber, but it has raised nearly $80 million in funds, and as the ride-hailing battle heats up, it will be a likely investment or M&A target for one of the three.
Let battle commence.