China’s Didi Chuxing launches taxi-hailing service in Japan

China’s Didi Chuxing is fighting fires at home around passenger safety, but overseas the ride-hailing giant has moved into another new market after its taxi-booking service began operations in Japan.

The service has gone live in Osaka, the city of nearly nine million people, and parts of the surrounding area including Kansai International Airport. The Didi Japan app links passengers up with drivers from 10 local taxi companies, and Didi said it will use an AI-based dispatch and fleet management system for efficiency.

Didi, which is valued at $56 billion, entered Japan in partnership with SoftBank, which is of course one of its investors. The company said it plans to expand the service to major cities including “Kyoto, Fukuoka and Tokyo” in the near future.

The company is going to stick to license taxis and not private cars because the latter is banned in Japan. Still, the traditional taxi industry is big business in Japan . The country is the world’s third largest taxi market based on revenue ($13 billion GMV), and it has some 240,000 licensed vehicles.

Uber, meanwhile, is piloting a similar taxi-based approach across Japan, but there are some far bigger players in the space.

JapanTaxi is a ride-hailing startup operated by Ichiro Kawanabe, who runs Japan’s largest taxi operator Nihon Kotsu and heads up the country’s taxi federation. JapanTaxi also has big-name backers, with Toyota the lead investor of a recent $69 million funding round. Beyond that, popular messaging app Line operates a ride-hailing service while Lyft, Uber’s rival in the U.S. market, is considering entering Japan, too.

Didi is hoping to stick out from the competition by appealing to both travelers and locals. To help snag interest from tourists visiting the country, it has created a ‘roaming passport’ that will allow users of other Didi apps — including China, Mexico, Australia, Hong Kong and Taiwan — to use their regular Didi app in Japan.

This Japan launch has been in the offing for some time — SoftBank and Didi announced the joint venture back in February — and this is the fifth expansion that Didi has completed so far this year. The company raised $4 billion at the tail-end of last year and it earmarked that capital for developing AI, core tech and international markets.

Didi hasn’t held back in broadening its business globally. The company has expanded into Mexico and Australia organically, while it acquired Uber rival 99 in Brazil in a $1 billion deal and launched a franchise-based expansion in Taiwan. It global reach also includes investments, and it owns stakes in Uber in the U.S, Ola in India, Grab in Southeast Asia, Careem in the Middle East and Taxify in Europe and Africa.

China’s Didi Chuxing adds more safety features following passenger murder

Didi Chuxing, China’s largest ride-hailing firm, is rolling out new security systems one month after a female customer was raped and murdered by a driver, the second such fatality on its Hitch service this year.

Today the company said it introduced a number of new safety features which include random biometric ID testing for drivers (in addition to a selfie-based log-in each day) and the introduction of an SOS button within Didi’s driver app which connects directly to police. Didi said that SOS feature is tied into “a streamlined critical response process” — which includes “a special police response team” set up to assist with issues on the Didi service — and there are fatigue and tiredness alerts for drivers.

Earlier this month, Didi added a safety center featuring guidelines and help, and updated the SOS button within the passenger app so it goes directly to the police rather than customer support agents. The company also started trialing an on-route audio recording function for its Express and Premier services.

Didi’s CEO and chairwoman earlier said that it plans to prioritize user safety over growth.

The company faced strong criticism after it emerged that its own systems had been at fault in both murders. For the first fatality, the driver who committed the murder bypassed Didi’s driver authentication system (using an account belonging to his father) while a sexual harassment complaint lodged against the account before the incident was not followed up on.

The second murder showed further problems. The driver had been flagged to Didi’s safety team just one day before the murder after a female passenger complained that he had requested her to ride in the front seat and then followed her for some time after she left his vehicle. Yet, the safety center representative who handled the complaint had not followed company policy of initiating an investigation within two hours.

Didi fired two executives following the second murder — the general manager for Hitch and the company’s vice president of customer services — and it suspended the Hitch service for the second time this year.

China instituted new regulations around ride-sharing last month which included tasking provinces and autonomous regions with setting up passenger safety committees and ensuring that incidents are investigated promptly.

Rival Meituan, which raised $4 billion from an IPO in Hong Kong last week, entered the ride-hailing space earlier this year. The company has been keen to battle Didi but, perhaps sensing the difficulty of the moment, it suspended plans to expand beyond Nanjing and Shanghai and into more parts of China.

Didi has been without a strong direct competitor since it reached a deal to acquire Uber’s China-based service two years ago.

Ride-hailing startup Shohoz raises $15M to build the Grab of Bangladesh

Uber may be global but it is very much the alternative in some parts of the world. One such place is Bangladesh — the South Asian country that’s home to 160 million people — where local rival Pathao is backed by Go-Jek and recently raised $10 million. Now Pathao’s closest rival, Shohoz, has also pulled in investment after it closed a $15 million funding round.

Shohoz — which means ‘easy’ in Bengali — started in 2014 offering online bus ticket sales before expanding into other tickets like ferries. The startup moved into on-demand services in January when it added motorbikes and then it recently introduced private cars. CEO Maliha Quadir told TechCrunch that it is now registering one million completed rides as it bids to “simplify” life in capital city Dhaka, which houses over 18 million people and offers limited transport options.

“Bus tickets will remain an important part of our business, [there’s] lots of synergy with ride-sharing,” she explained in an interview. “Dhaka has a super dense population with bad infrastructure, if anything there’s a better case for ride-sharing than Indonesia… there’s no subway and transport is a horrid nightmare.”

Singapore-based Golden Gate Ventures which recently closed a $100 million fund — led the new Shohoz round. Linear VC of China, 500 Startups and Singaporean-based angel investor Koh Boon Hwee also took part.

The Shohoz ride-hailing app launched in January 2018

Quadir, who graduated from Havard and spent time working in finance in the U.S. and Singapore, told TechCrunch that Shohoz plans to double down on its ride-sharing business with the new round. In particular, the plan is to expand beyond Dhaka soon.

Then it is also eyeing up services that’ll take it beyond point-to-point transportation and into ‘super app’ territory in the style of Go-Jek and Grab, the two Southeast Asia-based unicorns. For Shohoz, that’ll initially include food delivery, but there are also plans to add on-demand services — Go-Jek, for example, offers services like groceries, hairdressers or massages on demand. Ultimately, Quadir plans to add financial services, too, which could mean payments and financial products in the future.

While the super apps of Southeast Asia have all expanded beyond their home markets, Shohoz isn’t looking to go international quite yet.

“It’s in my mind but there’s so much to do in Bangladesh,” Quadir explained. “In Bangladesh, you can really make an impact — it’s a green field.”

As for Uber, Quadir acknowledged that the U.S. firm has done a good job on private car vehicles but she said its Uber Moto service is dwarfed by local alternatives. It appears that Shohoz’s bet on becoming a super app is aimed at emulating the likes of Didi Chuxing in China and Grab in Southeast Asia that ultimately beat Uber using a localized strategy that went well beyond rides. Given that Pathao is pursuing the same strategy, three might well be a crowd in Bangladesh and that could spell difficulty for Uber.

Latin America is the next stage in the race for dominance in the ride-hailing market

As the number of competitors in the ride-hailing industry dwindles, geographic expansion is emerging as the next proving ground to determine who will be the victor in the ride-hailing market.

The race for control of the industry, which is estimated by Goldman Sachs to grow eightfold to $285 billion by 2030, is escalating with China’s Didi Chuxing already surpassing Uber as the most valuable startup in the world. With a recent valuation of approximately $56 billion, compared to Uber’s $48 billion, Didi is posing a real threat to Uber’s operations and shows no signs of slowing down. Cementing its position as the top ride-hailing service in China, Didi is now turning its attention to another region of the world that is still filled with vast opportunities and not yet dominated by a single taxi alternative: Latin America.

While many ride-hailing and sharing services have already sprung up and faced regulation in cities across Latin America such as Mexico City, Montevideo, and São Paulo, the region still presents an enormous opportunity for the companies that can adapt and move fast enough.

The current opportunities in Latin America

Unlike many other regions of the world, Latin America is still very much reliant on traditional forms of public transportation such as buses, trains, and subway systems. What’s more, larger cities such as São Paulo, Mexico City, and Bogota simply cannot support any more vehicles on the road without an infrastructure overhaul. Large metro areas are already at or above maximum capacity during peak hours, making owning and commuting with a car more of a hassle than a luxury. As a result, many commuters across Latin America are putting less importance on owning a vehicle and opting to use alternative modes of transportation and on-demand services instead.

Beyond the rising demand for alternative transportation options, it’s also worth noting that Latin America is the world’s second-fastest-growing mobile market. In a region of approximately 640 million people, there are more than 200 million smartphone users. By 2020, predictions say that 63% of Latin America’s population will have access to the mobile Internet. Latin American smartphone users have quickly adopted global apps, such as Uber and Facebook. However, tech companies have yet to fully tap into the region’s potential.

Chilean taxi drivers demonstrate along Alameda Avenue against US on-demand ride service giant Uber, in Santiago, on July 10, 2017.
Uber smartphone app has faced stiff resistance from traditional taxi drivers the world over, as well as bans in some places over safety concerns and questions over legal issues, including taxes. (MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/Getty Images)

The key players

Uber

According to a Dalia survey, Latin Americans with smartphones that live in urban areas are the most likely to have used a ride-hailing app or site. Overall, 45% have used an app, with Mexico taking the top position in the region at 58%.

Uber entered Latin America in 2013 and claims to have more than 36 million active users in the region, proving employment for more than a million drivers. The company quickly dominated Mexico, which is now its second-largest market after the U.S. In fact, up until recently Uber claimed a near monopoly on ride-sharing in Mexico with few competitors. Uber also has operations in more than 16 Latin American countries.

99 (formerly 99Taxis)

With an urban population of approximately 180 million, Brazil is the ultimate prize for ride-hailing and taxi companies with several services competing for market share. Most notably, 99 (formerly “99Taxis”) was able to gain momentum early on with exclusive services that extended beyond basic ride-hailing (such as its 99 TOP and 99 POP services) and better tools for its drivers.

With over 200,000 drivers and 14 million users, 99 attracted the attention of investors worldwide, including that of China’s Didi Chuxing. Didi invested $100 million into 99 in January 2018 before acquiring 99 entirely months later for nearly $1 billion to take on Uber in Latin America, shortly after it acquired Uber’s operations in China.

Easy Taxi

Rocket Internet -backed taxi booking service, Easy Taxi, started in Latin America in 2011, two years after Uber first started in San Francisco. The company provides an easy way to book a taxi and track it in real-time. Today, the company is owned by Maxi Mobility, which acquired the company from Rocket Internet in 2017 for an undisclosed amount. Maxi Mobility also owns Cabify, and operates across many Latin American markets, including Argentina, Mexico, Bolivia, Panama, Brazil, Peru, and Chile, in addition to a handful of markets elsewhere.

To solidify its position in the region, Easy Taxi merged with Colombian taxi-booking app Tappsi in 2015. Tappsi launched in Bogotá in 2012 and was doing quite well in the Colombian market. The merger allowed the companies to pool their resources just as other competitors, such as Uber, began entering the region.

Easy Taxi maintains impressive traction, raising more than $75 million to date. But as the ride-hailing battle in Latin America pushes forward, the company is rumored to be a likely investment or acquisition target for Uber, Didi, or the largest global investor in this space, Softbank.

Cabify

Cabify is a Spanish company that provides private vehicles for hire via its smartphone app. Although founded in Madrid, Cabify has always positioned itself as a Latin American company, investing heavily across the region. The company was able to gain a strong foothold due to some significant funding raised by its parent company, Maxi Mobility. In January 2018, Maxi Mobility raised another $160 million and said the funding would be used to accelerate both of its companies, Cabify and Easy Taxi, in the 130 cities where they operate throughout Spain, Portugal, and Latin America.

Cabify reported it has over 13 million users and grew its installed-base by 500% between 2016 and 2017, tripling its user base and fulfilling six times more trips in 2017.

Cabify competes directly with Uber, 99, and Easy Taxi in Brazil; however, it reportedly has around 40% market share in Sao Pãolo, one of the largest cities in all of Latin America.

Smaller players to watch

Beat (Formerly Taxibeat)

Beat is a profitable ride-hailing service founded in Athens, Greece that also operates in Peru. Beat is slowly expanding its operations across Latin America, though expansion appears to be limited to Chile for now.

As of January 2017, Beat had around 15,000 drivers and 800,000 customers in Peru.

Nekso

Toronto-based Nekso bet on the Latin American taxi-hailing market before its home market with a pilot launch in Venezuela in 2016. Nekso was able to gain acceptance from the taxi industries in Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, and Panama with its slightly different approach to ride-hailing.

The company connects a network of 550+ licensed taxi companies with thousands of drivers and allows users to flag down a cab off the street and without using in-app requests. Nekso also uses artificial intelligence technology to offer drivers real-time updates on weather, events, and traffic data to predict areas of a city which may need more drivers. The company claims taxi drivers can spend up to two-thirds of their day looking for or waiting for riders and that Nekso technology helps drivers increase their daily rides by more than 25% percent.

At the end of 2017, Nekso boasted around 150,000 users and facilitated approximately 400,000 rides per month. Now, the company plans to make its debut in Canada as well as expand to more countries in South America, including Argentina, Colombia, Chile, and Peru.

Didi, 99, and the next phase

99’s new owner, Didi, which dominates the Asian market and was able to defeat Uber in China, has big plans for international expansion. Its acquisition of 99 reveals the potential it sees in Latin America but also adds to the complicated web of global ride-hailing services.

After Didi shut down and acquired Uber’s assets in China, it also bought a stake in Uber for $1 billion. Uber, Didi, and 99 are all backed by Softbank. However, everywhere outside of China, Didi and Uber are competing with each other. Didi’s full plans for 99 are not yet obvious, but the company has already set up an office in Mexico and begun poaching staff from Uber in Mexico.

With an infusion of capital, Latin America’s ride-hailing industry is multiplying. That said, companies that want to compete in the region will need to use an aggressive and strategic approach that can withstand the uniqueness of commuters and transportation options in the region. It’s only a matter of time until we see if these companies continue ramping up their operations for geographic domination, or if we see more and more partner up to advance their technologies and address other looming threats – such as bike sharing, scooter sharing, and even autonomous vehicles.

Two of the founders of 99, who sold their company to Didi, have already launched a dockless bike sharing startup called Yellow in Brazil and raised $9 million to grow its operations. No other scooter company has taken the plunge into Latin America yet besides Grin Scooters in Mexico City, but other larger cities such as Buenos Aires, Bogota, Santiago, and Lima would be ideal markets if the companies can figure out pricing as well as security and safety issues first.

Didi’s activity in Brazil and Mexico is sure to trigger a new wave of competition between existing ride-hailing players and create an even more tangled web of alliances and acquisitions. Whether or not these companies can adapt and move fast enough to rise to the top, and deal with the other looming alternative modes of transportation, remains to be seen.

Taxify is entering the e-scooter game

Estonian ride-hailing company Taxify will compete with Bird and Lime in Europe with its new brand of e-scooters, called Bolt, launching in Paris on Thursday.

The company has rolled the scooter sharing service into its mobile app, which has attracted 10 million users in 25 countries since it launched in August 2013.

A spokesperson for the company told TechCrunch it plans to release scooters in several other European and Australian cities where their app is already established, but will also launch in new markets where they’ve been unable to offer ride-hailing services because of regulatory roadblocks, including Germany and Spain.

As of now, Taxify has no plans to scoot into the US market.

“One in five Taxify rides are less than 3 km, which is the perfect distance to cover with an electric scooter,” Taxify CEO and co-founder Markus Villig said in a statement. “It’s likely that some of our ride-hailing customers will now opt for scooters for shorter distances, but we’ll also attract a whole new group of customers with different needs. This means we’ll be able to help more people with their daily transportation problems.”

A Bolt scooter ride will cost 15 cents a minute, with a minimum fare of €1. Just like other e-scooter startups, you unlock the GPS tracked scooters by scanning the QR-code on the scooter using the Taxify app. Taxify will collect the scooters in the evenings for recharging.

Lime e-scooters went live in Paris at the end of June. About a month later, Bird’s fleet did the same, rolling into Paris and Tel Aviv as part of its international launch. GoBee Bike, Obike, Ofo and Mobike — all dockless bike providers — have also launched in Paris. GoBee has since exited after failing to compete with heavyweights like Mobike, which is owned by the multi-billion dollar Chinese company Meituan.

Taxify, for its part, is a favorite among private investors. In May, the company brought in $175 million from Daimler, Didi Chuxing and others. The financing brought the company to the $1 billion valuation mark, where it joined fellow ride-hailing giants Lyft, Uber, Careem and more in the unicorn club.

Whether e-scooters will be as popular in Europe as they’ve been in the US remains to be seen. It’s likely they’ll run into the same regulatory headaches they faced in several US cities as they continue to crop up in new markets.

Taxify, as a European company battling a pair of US-based mobility startups, may have the upper hand.

Rappi raises $200M as Latin American tech investment reaches new highs

Rappi, the Colombian on-demand delivery startup, has brought in a new round of funding at a valuation north of $1 billion, as first reported by Axios and confirmed to TechCrunch by a source close to the company. DST Global has led the more than $200 million financing, with participation from Andreessen Horowitz and Sequoia—all of which were existing investors in the company.

Rappi kicked off its business delivering beverages and has since expanded into meals, groceries, and even tech and medicine. You can, for example, have a pair of AirPods delivered to you using Rappi’s app. The company also has a popular cash withdrawal feature that allows users to pay with credit cards and then receive cash from one of Rappi’s delivery agents.

Rappi charges $1 per delivery. To help keep costs efficient, the company’s fleet of couriers use only motorcycles and bikes.

Simón Borrero, Sebastian Mejia and Felipe Villamarin launched the company in 2015, graduating from Y Combinator the following year. From there, Rappi quickly captured the attention of American venture capitalists. A16z’s initial investment in July 2016 was the Silicon Valley firm’s first investment in Latin America.

The new capital will likely be used to help Rappi compete with Uber Eats, which is active across Latin America.

The round for Rappi is notable for a Latin American company, as is its new unicorn status. Only one other Latin American startup, Nubank, has surpassed a billion-dollar valuation with new venture capital funding so far in 2018. Sao Paulo-based Nubank makes a no-fee credit card and is also backed by DST.

Investment in Latin American tech continues to reach new highs. In the first quarter of 2018, more than $600 million was invested. That followed a record 2017, which was the first time VCs funneled more than $1 billion into the continent’s tech ecosystem during a 12-month period.

The rise in investment is mostly due to sizable fundings for companies like Rappi and NuBank, as well as Brazil-based 99, which sold to fellow ride-hailing business Didi Chuxing in a deal worth $1 billion earlier this year.

 

China announces transportation industry reform, days after murder of Didi carpooling passenger

The Chinese government announced it will reform the transportation industry to safeguard passengers, three days after a female passenger was allegedly raped and murdered by a Didi Chuxing driver last Friday. Provinces and autonomous regions are now tasked with setting up passenger safety committees by the end of this month and ensuring that incidents are investigated promptly.

The crime led to the suspension of Hitch, Didi Chuxing’s carpooling service, and the firing of two executives: Hitch’s general manager and Didi’s vice president of customer services. This is not the first time, however, that Didi has been forced pull back on Hitch. Earlier this year, it suspended night operations after a female passenger was allegedly murdered by an unregistered driver who had accessed the service using his father’s account. Nighttime Hitch rides then resumed in June after Didi put new safety measures in place, including a rule that prohibited drivers from accepting ride requests by passengers of the opposite sex during certain hours.

The latest incident took place on Friday in the eastern province of Zhejiang and is especially concerning because the driver had been flagged just one day before the murder by another female passenger who complained that he followed her after she left his vehicle. In a statement, Didi said a safety center representative failed to follow corporate policy and initiate an investigation within two hours. The company also admitted that its customer service procedures has “many deficiencies” and said it will “plead for law enforcement and the public to work with us in developing more efficient and practical collaborative solutions to fight criminals and protect user personal and property safety.”

China’s police and transport ministries have already said that Didi bears “unshirkable responsibility” for Friday’s murder. The company has already been accused of being too lax with passenger safety, leaving its users–particularly women–vulnerable to sexual harassment and assault.

The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the agency that enacts strategies for China’s economic and social development, posted its announcement, titled “Concerning untrustworthy behavior in the emerging transportation sector,” online on Monday morning.

In it, the NDRC said it will put measures into place to root out untrustworthy and dishonest operators in China’s transportation industry, which has grown dramatically over the past two decades. Provinces and autonomous regions must form committees and procedures to ensure passenger safety by August 31 and share information about violations and offenders with other municipalities.

While the NDRC mentioned all transportation sectors, including railways, airplanes and ships, it singled out passenger vehicles, including buses, shuttles and cabs, in one passage and ordered municipalities to investigate offenses in a timely manner. Operators that don’t take action quickly to fix “untrustworthy behavior” risk being placed on a blacklist and having their names published on government websites.

China’s Didi suspends carpooling service after another female passenger is mudered

Chinese ride-hailing firm Didi Chuxing, the $60 billion-valued company that bought out Uber’s China business, has suspended its carpooling service after the murder of a female passenger. The fatally is the second such incident this year after a passenger was murdered in May.

Police this weekend arrested a man who is accused of raping and killing a 20-year-old female who rode with him via Didi’s Hitch service on Friday in Zhejiang, a province in the east of China. Reuters reports that the woman had messaged her friend earlier in the day asking for help before she disappeared.

Authorities in Zhejiang city Leqing suspended the service before Didi later announced it would suspend Hitch nationwide. Didi’s other (commercial) carpooling and ride-hailing services are not affected by this suspension.

“We are sorry the Hitch service… would be suspended for now because of our disappointing mistakes,” Didi said in a statement.

Hitch is a modern take on hitchhiking that lets a passenger ride for free with a driver headed in their direction. Passengers are encouraged to leave a tip to cover petrol, but the idea is to make each car ride more efficient. Didi doesn’t monetize the service, but it is a strategic way to attract passengers and drivers who may use other services that the firm does draw revenue from.

Didi claims Hitch has handled over a billion trips in the past three years, but there are major safety issues.

This new murder occurred a little over three months after an air stewardess was killed in Henan province by a driver who got on to Didi’s platform using an account belonging to his father, a verified Didi driver. Following that incident, Didi suspended Hitch for six weeks. The service resumed in June with a number of restrictions, in particular, one that only allowed drivers to serve passengers of the same sex during late night hours.

This fatal Zhejiang ride occurred at 1pm, according to police, and there’s plenty to be concerned with.

Didi said in a statement that the alleged murderer, who does not have a criminal record, had been flagged to Didi’s safety team just one day before. A female passenger complained that the driver had requested her to ride in the front seat and then followed her for some time after she left his vehicle.

The Didi safety center representative who handled the complaint had not followed company policy of initiating an investigation within two hours, according to Reuters. That policy was introduced during the suspension period after Didi discovered another passenger had flagged suspicious behavior from the driver who then went on to commit the murder in May.

“The incident shows the many deficiencies with our customer service processes, especially the failure to act swiftly on the previous passenger’s complaint and the cumbersome and rigid process of information sharing with the police. This is too high a cost to pay. We plead for law enforcement and the public to work with us in developing more efficient and practical collaborative solutions to fight criminals and protect user personal and property safety,” Didi said in a statement.

The company confirmed that it has fired two executives following the murder: the general manager for Hitch and the company’s vice president of customer services.

Didi said it will launch a “co-supervisory process of our operations” which it invited members of the public and experts to take part in.

Following the murder in May, Didi said it has booked “proactive consultation sessions with relevant authorities and experts” as it sought to shore up its safety processes.

Didi has operated a virtual monopoly on ride-hailing services since it acquired and integrated Uber’s China business in 2016, but this year it has seen increased competition.

In particular, Didi is facing pressure from rival Meituan Dianping, which started out in local services but recently introduced ride-sharing services and moved into dockless bikes with the acquisition of Mobike. Meituan recently filed to go public in Hong Kong, with some reports suggesting it could raise as much as $4 billion.

Meituan is involved in a dogfight with Alibaba to win China’s local services market — Alibaba just amped up its efforts with a $3 billion raise for its Ele.me business unit — but no doubt Meituan will now doubly focus on its own safety and security measures to push its case as a legitimate alternative to Didi.

Didi has gone to great pains to emphasize that Hitch is well used — it hamfistedly shoved a mention of the service’s ride completion numbers into its apology statement — but at this point it seems best to shutter the service if it can’t guarantee the safety of all passengers, no matter how popular or strategic it may be.