February 15, 2019
By Aislinn Laing and Adam Jourdan
SANTIAGO/BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing is planning to take on U.S. rival Uber in some of Latin America’s fastest-growing markets, recruiting managers in Chile, Peru and Colombia, according to job postings and a company official.
Didi has moved senior executives from China to lead its expansion in markets like Chile and Peru, and began in recent weeks advertising for driver operations, crisis management, marketing and business development personnel in those countries, an analysis of LinkedIn postings show.
Didi’s widening expansion, if successful, could make for a bumpier ride for San Francisco-based Uber Technologies Inc in Latin America, one of its fastest growth regions, as it gets ready to go public as soon as later this year.
The two firms are already battling in Brazil, where Didi bought local start-up 99 in January last year, and Mexico, where the Chinese firm lured drivers with higher pay and bonuses for signing up other drivers and passengers.
Didi is China’s dominant ride-hailing firm and is backed by investors including Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp. In 2016, Didi bought Uber’s local Chinese operations following a bruising two-year battle for domination in China.
The push comes as Didi is laying off staff in China as it grapples with regulatory scrutiny, reportedly significant financial losses and public backlash over the murder of two of its customers, sources told Reuters.
The firm’s new Chile public affairs manager, Felipe Contreras, who was previously Uber’s corporate communications chief in Chile, said Didi had also hired a senior executive from Chilean cellular phone company WOM to lead its engagement with government and public policy operations.
Contreras confirmed the launch plans and told Reuters that the company’s aim was to be a “market leader” in Chile, where Uber, Spain’s Cabify and Greece’s Beat already transport thousands of passengers a day.
Didi is still mulling when to launch its local service, he said, saying, “We are still in the planning and recruitment phase.”
Chile’s government has yet to pass a law regulating ride-sharing applications, resulting in a legal gray area which sees Uber, Cabify and Beat drivers routinely fined by the police for operating without public transport licenses.
The law is still at committee stage and would need approval by both Chile’s lower and upper chambers, a process which could take up to a year.
Contreras said the timeline for Didi’s launch would “not necessarily” hinge on the law’s eventual passing. “We are studying all the variables,” he said.
(Reporting by Aislinn Laing and Adam Jourdan; Editing by Christian Plumb and Leslie Adler)