Uber is usually not afraid to go on the offensive with regulators all over the world in order to facilitate its rapid growth and expansion. Be it by filing complaints against several governments in Europe at the beginning of 2015, or using it’s large venture cash pool to hand out aggressive cash incentives to drivers in India in order to go against opposing “old-economy” taxi monopolies.
In Uber’s most important growth market China, however, Uber’s management is much more cautious and obedient, knowing that their usual strategy of disrupting the market could possible come to a dead stop at anytime at will of the strong central government. Additionally, Uber is still only the minor player in China, competing with the extremely strong local competitor Didi Kuiadi that has around 80% of the market and gets significant invest from sources close to the Chinese government.
Uber therefore seems to go now for a strict compliance strategy in China. After China’s Ministry of Transport has published a draft of a new rule set for private e-hailing services, bringing in far-reaching regulatory demands on licenses, drivers and IT infrastructure, Uber is happy to comply with any new rule. Unlike Uber’s usual way of ‘acting first and (maybe) asking for permission later’, Uber has already announced that “the company is in close communication with Chinese regulators and would follow all new rules”.
Additionally, Uber will fully separate its China business from its other business by setting up an own Uber China company, and is trying to work more closely with local partners in order to get a better standing in the Chinese market. It is a “comply or die” situation, and Uber is likely to go for the survival option.
Uber said that to localize its Chinese business, Uber China has officially registered in Shanghai as a separate entity called Shanghai Wubo Information Technology, run by Chinese managers. It has obtained the requisite licenses and qualifications as an Internet company and placed its servers in China, the company added.
China Tightens Oversight of Private Car-Hailing Services
The Chinese Uber competitor Didi Kuaidi is ramping up the valuation game with a prominent invest from China’s sovereign-wealth fund CIC. Didi Kuaidi, which was formed by the USD$6 billion merger of the two competing taxi-hailing apps, Kuaidi Dache and Didi Dache, in February has now reached a valuation of USD$15 billion.
While this might be still small compared to Uber’s current boasting USD$50 billion valuation, the potential mid- and long-term implications for Uber in China are interesting. Didi Kuaidi claims to control around 80% of the market, on both taxi hailing as well as premium / limousine booking.
With government-close CIC as investor – and the respective ‘guanxi’ with the authorities, and the close roots to the existing taxi industry, Didi Kuaidi might be much better suited to further establish its presence and dominate the market for ride-hailing. The model of Didi Kuaidi’s operation – going hand in hand with existing providers and offering additional services on top – fundamentally differs from Uber’s ‘let’s disrupt the taxi industry” approach.
Jean Liu – president of Didi Kuaidi – made this point very clear in her talk with the Wallstreet Journal:
“We have a unique business model. We provide a comprehensive range of products. We are trying to serve every Chinese in every situation. (…) Our philosophy is we don’t really believe in disruptive termination. When it concerns millions of people’s jobs, and when it concerns tens of millions of people’s life, what we believe in is collaborative reform from within. We try to work with everyone.”
Jean Liu – President Didi Kuaidi