HONG KONG – Uber Technologies Inc. is at risk of losing out on another big chunk of the global market.
Grab, the leading provider of ride-hailing services in Southeast Asia, said Monday it raised $2 billion from SoftBank Group Corp. and China’s Didi Chuxing and expects to receive another $500 million from new and existing backers.
The money will help Grab, which already dominates the region, defend its turf against Uber in one of the San Francisco company’s most important global markets after retreats from China and Russia.
Uber’s rivals are piling on a company in crisis. While a series of scandals at Uber culminated in the ouster of Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick in June, its competitors in China, India, Brazil and Singapore have raised a total of about $9 billion to accelerate their expansions. The money, primarily from Masayoshi Son’s SoftBank, jeopardizes Uber’s push for global dominance and its $69 billion valuation.
“This funding round is a great threat to Uber,” said Zhou Xin, an internet consultant at Beijing-based Trustdata.”If Uber loses Southeast Asia, it will significantly curtail its value proposition as a global operation.”
International markets have proven brutal. Uber sold its business in China to Didi after a fierce battle that saw each company burning through more than a billion dollars a year at one point as they fought for drivers and riders with rich subsidies. Uber negotiated a similar move in Russia this month as it seeks to narrow losses.
Now, Uber is trying to compete with its leadership in turmoil. Kalanick stepped aside after a lawsuit by Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo over trade secrets, a U.S. criminal probe over a software tool for evading regulators and an investigation into alleged sexual harassment and discrimination. Several lieutenants, including ally Emil Michael, have also left.
“Uber is serving millions of riders and drivers in over 55 cities across Southeast Asia, and is expanding rapidly to meet strong demand for ride-sharing and food delivery,” the company said in a statement. “With positive regulatory momentum behind the industry in the region, we are continuously investing in the app and talented local teams to ensure the very best experience for everyone, everywhere we operate.”
SoftBank’s Son is emerging as the primary financier behind the anti-Uber alliance. In April, he led a $5.5 billion investment in Didi aimed at giving the Chinese ride-hailing startup a war chest to invest in new technologies and foreign expansion.
SoftBank also sprinkled money into Brazil’s largest ride-sharing startup 99 and India’s Ola, and is in discussions to back Uber’s U.S. competitor Lyft Inc, sources have said.
“SoftBank missed the chance to invest in Uber before it became the leading ride-sharing platform in the U.S.,” said Masahiko Ishino, an analyst at Tokai Tokyo Securities. “Other regional ride-sharing companies still need capital to get up to speed.”
Grab, led by Anthony Tan, has taken an early lead in Southeast Asia. The company said Monday it has 95 percent of third-party taxi-hailing in the region, handles 71 percent of private vehicle hailing and provides almost 3 million daily rides.
Yet it may be too alluring a prize for Uber to concede. The market of some 620 million people, stretching from Indonesia to Myanmar, is projected to expand fivefold to $13 billion by 2025.
“Uber is not walking away from Southeast Asia,” said Atul Goyal, an analyst at Jefferies Group. “It’s a freer market where they actually stand a chance, unlike Russia and China where you have significant language and regulatory barriers.”
Uber’s rivals in Southeast Asia may yet get support from China’s tech titans, which are looking for ways to promote their lucrative payments services. Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. co-founder Jack Ma and its Alipay affiliate have looked at investing in Grab, people familiar with the matter have said.
Separately, Tencent Holdings Ltd. has considered putting money into Indonesian ride-sharing giant Go-Jek. Though Grab said it is expecting to raise another $500 million, it’s unclear whether any Ma-related entities will be taking part.
SoftBank has toyed with the idea of buying Uber shares from early investors, sources have said. Yet Son has mostly chosen to corner Uber by investing in competitors around the world, a strategy that seems to be paying off.
“One loss in battle can set off a landslide,” said Zhou. “Uber needs to prove that it can beat local players at catering to users and that is proving much harder than imagined.”
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