Didi Chuxing Has Global Ambitions and Lots of Conflicts of Interest

October 22, 2016, 12:15 AM UTC
Coatue Hedge Fund Bets on Didi, China's Apple-Backed Uber Rival
The icon for Didi Chuxing application, left, is displayed on a smartphone screen in this arranged photograph taken in Shanghai, China, on Sunday, May 22, 2016. Philippe Laffont's Coatue Management LLC, which manages more than $7 billion, has backed China's biggest ride-hailing app Didi Chuxing as it competes with Uber Technologies Inc. Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Qilai Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images

China’s biggest ride-hailing company won’t stop at conquering its home country.

Didi Chuxing is “definitely going global,” president Jean Liu said on Thursday at Vanity Fair‘s Next Establishment Summit conference in San Francisco. Liu declined to elaborate on the specifics of the company’s plans to “play a global game,” but she did say that Didi Chuxing believes in “local players,” a statement supported by the company’s victory over former rival Uber China, which it acquired in August.

Didi Chuxing’s strategy to become an international company is a curious one, given its web of relationships with other ride-hailing companies around the world, including an alliance with three others it announced last fall. Here are some conflicts it potentially creates:

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  • Southeast Asia: While the region would be an obvious area for Didi’s expansion because of the proximity, Didi is allied with local ride-hailing king Grab as part of the multi-company partnership it announced last year. Setting up a competing business there would be awkward, to say the least. But Didi is also an investor in Grab, which both means it has an interest in seeing it succeed in its home market of Southeast Asia, and that it could just acquire Grab. Uber is also competing in Southeast Asia, another conflict of interest since Didi and Uber have each a non-voting seat each other’s boards.
  • India: A large market for transportation, India is an understandable potential target for Didi. But again, it’s already allied with a local company, Ola, also as part of its big alliance. And like with Grab, Didi is an investor in Ola, so acquiring the company could be an option. And once again, Didi’s relationship with Uber, which is fiercely competing in India, complicates things further.
  • Europe: Here, Didi would most directly battle against Uber, in addition to a few local ride-hailing companies like Gett. Again, because Didi and Uber have non-voting seats on each other’s boards, this would be awkward. Another conflict that could arise in Europe would be with Lyft. At Fortune‘s Brainstorm Tech conference in July, Lyft co-founder and president John Zimmer said that it’s “very likely” that Lyft will do business in other countries, and while he didn’t elaborate further, Europe wouldn’t be a surprising target.
  • U.S.: The U.S. would undoubtedly be a challenge for Didi to go into with its own ride-hailing operations, both because of its relationships with the two biggest players in that market (Uber and Lyft), and because trying to jump into the game would be an uphill battle. Lyft is evaluating its partnership with Didi, which is also an investor in the U.S. company. That said, Didi is already getting a glimpse of what operating in the U.S. might be like, thanks to a recent integration of its app with Lyft’s network of drivers, which lets Chinese travelers summon a Lyft ride via their Didi mobile app.
  • The rest of the world: Certainly, Didi could head to Latin America, Africa, or other smaller regions, but it would face Uber, local competitors, and markets conditions that are very unlike its own.

Why Uber’s Merger With Didi Chuxing Is a Smart Idea

Given how aggressive and determined Didi has been during its short few years of existence, it’s no surprise that it has global ambitions—despite the massive size of its home market in China, which it’s far from having entirely conquered. How it will do all this is still a mystery. And since the company has other lofty goals—like getting into the self-driving car race—this is only the beginning.

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