Uber’s U-Turn on Taxi Cooperation Could Herald more Realistic Southeast Asia path

Uber’s entire business has been predicated on flooring it right at the establishment. Co-founder Travis Kalanick once said his company was in a campaign where “the incumbent is an asshole called taxi.” New boss Dara Khosrowshahi just pulled a U-turn in Singapore by striking a deal with ComfortDelGro, the powerful local cab operator.

It has been a rough ride for Uber in Southeast Asia. As with the rest of the continent, cutthroat competition against deep-pocketed peers caused the company to burn through billions. China’s $500 billion Tencent, for example, backs Indonesia’s Go Jek. Softbank, which is in the process of trying to plow another $10 billion into Uber, also has helped finance rivals. There have been regulatory problems in Singapore, too, where Uber was accused of knowingly renting out faulty vehicles. It said it swiftly fixed the problem.

That backdrop makes it sensible for the company to embrace the competition. Similar deals signed in Malaysia and Myanmar should help Uber get bigger. In the Lion City, it is surrendering 51 percent of a 14,000-car rental subsidiary in exchange for more drivers on its system. ComfortDelGro, meanwhile, is buying some needed growth. It boasts the largest fleet in Singapore. Taxi revenue, however, fell over 11 percent in the third quarter of this year. Having its cars pop up on the Uber app should improve their efficiency and the top line.

Uber is a long way from securing its place in the region, though. After it first disclosed talks with ComfortDelGro, Grab secured $700 million in debt financing to expand its own rental fleet and a partnership with Singapore’s public transport titan, SMRT.

A China-like retreat eventually could be tempting. There, Uber sold its business to Didi Chuxing to cut whopping losses, but kept a stake to capture at least some of the potential upside.

For the time being, there is room to expand, especially considering the youthful market in cities like Manila or Jakarta, where traffic is bad and parking worse. Further consolidation also is bound to occur. Changing its mentality in Singapore, though, suggests Uber has come to realize taxis may not be the contemptible foes it once thought.


Source: Global Times


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