SAO PAULO — The hatchet has been dug up. No surprise there. The truce brought about in the ride-hailing war by Didi Chuxing's acquisition of Uber's Chinese operation in August was only ever going to be temporary. Instead, this hiatus allowed both competitors to pick a new battleground: Brazil.
São Paulo-based business magazine Exame reported last week that Didi Chuxing is investing as much as $100 million in 99, Uber's biggest competitor in Brazil. With 10 million users and 140,000 registered drivers across 550 Brazilian cities, 99 is the clear leader is an increasingly competitive market that, besides Uber, also includes Cabify and Easy. But for Didi and Uber, Brazil is just a stepping stone, albeit a massive one, into a much bigger and crucial market: Latin America. And the battle there is only just beginning.
Just a couple of months ago, Bloomberg wrote that despite the resentment and anger, the California-based Uber has attracted in Latin American, the company continues to view the continent as "the Promised Land," an area where it can "grow rapidly facing weak, under-funded competition." Now, Via Brazil's 99, Didi Chuxing is also well positioned to expand across Latin America and hopefully give its U.S. rival a run for its money.
Liu Qing, CEO of Didi in Beijing on June 21 — Photo: Li Xin/Xinuhua/ZUMA
Money, of course, is what the two companies are after in Latin America. Both Uber and Didi know, however, that they'll also need to invest heavily. Finding the right balance may be difficult, especially for Uber, which reportedly lost more than $2.2 billion in the first nine months of 2016 alone. Still, with $11 billion from venture capital investors, the company has room to maneuver. But with the backing of Alibaba, Tencent and Apple, so does Didi.
It's too early to say who will win the ride-hailing war. One thing, though, is clear: It will require a huge war chest to stay in the fight. And with Uber also investing big in self-driving cars, human drivers might just be temporary pawns in a much longer game.