The wheels are turning on Didi Chuxing’s first major expansion in Latin America after the Chinese ride-hailing firm announced moves into Chile and Colombia to double its presence in the region.
Didi said it rolled into Valparaiso, Chile’s third largest metropolis, and Colombian capital city Bogota this week. The company plans to expand beyond those cities over time, and, in terms of services, it said that it will add dedicated licensed taxis in Colombia this year.
Anchored in China, where it is the country’s dominant ride-hailing service, Didi began to place focus on international expansion last year and Latin America is a key part of its global ambitions.
In the region, Didi currently operates in Brazil — where it acquired local player 99 for $1 billion — and Mexico, but recent reports have linked it with more countries in Latin America. In February, Reuters reported that the company was hiring for operational staff in Chile, Peru and Colombia. Other reports have put its total headcount in Latin America at over 1,000 staff, that’s a clear indication of its intent for the region.
In a statement, Mi Yang — who leads Didi’s operations in Central and South America — called Chile and Colombia “two important centers of growth and innovation in the region.”
Outside of Latin America and its homeland, Didi is present in Taiwan and Australia, where it has other global connection through its investment deals. The company owns a significant stake in Southeast Asia-based Grab — it doubled down with a $2 billion investment alongside SoftBank in 2017 — as well as Bolt (formerly known as Taxify) across Europe and Africa, Ola in India and Lyft in the U.S.
Didi also has relations with Uber as a mutual investment was part of the deal that saw it acquire the Uber China business in 2016, and it invested in Middle East-based Careem, which is being acquired by Uber.
That’s a pretty complicated web of relationships and, with Didi’s global expansion, it often pits the Chinese company against its investments. In Australia, for example, Didi is up against Uber, Bolt AND Ola.
In Latin America, Uber is again a competitor and others the field include local players Cabify, Easy Taxi and Beat from Greece — companies that Didi hasn’t backed.
On offer is a market with vast growth potential. 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 and, by 2020, predictions say that 63% of Latin America’s population will have access to the mobile Internet.
Didi’s globetrotting comes at a challenging time for its domestic business, where it is still reeling from the murder of two passengers last year.
As TechCrunch reported last month, Didi is revamping its security systems to put an increased focus on passenger security in the wake of those tragic deaths. That’s come at significant cost and it is said to have pushed back plans to take the company. Uber and Lyft have, of course, completed IPO this year, but Didi’s own timeline for doing so is unclear.
More generally, Didi is far from the first Chinese company to head to Latin America with ambitions of dizzying growth. Earlier this decade, Baidu made a major push to own the nascent web and search business in Brazil — which culminated in an acquisition — while Tencent has backed fintech unicorn Nubank and it is trying sniff out other potential giants-in-waiting as the region’s ecosystem matures.