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Uber is playing catch up with Asia and its rivals there are local and have deep pockets. This is going to be interesting.
Uber Technologies Inc. expanded into Hong Kong as the company builds on the growing demand for its popular ride-sharing service in Asia.
“The growth we’re seeing in Asia is extraordinary,” Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick said in an interview in Hong Kong, where the company is officially starting its service today. He declined to specify growth figures. “You got something like 200 cities in China alone with over 1 million people. So we got a long way to go.”
Hong Kong joins the more than 100 cities that San Francisco-based Uber, valued at $17 billion based on its most recent round of funding, has expanded into since it was founded in 2009. Asian companies offering similar mobile services, including one backed by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., have sprouted in the region following Uber’s popularity in the U.S. and Europe.
“There are a couple of apps that say ‘Hey, we’re the Uber for Malaysia, we’re the Uber for China or the Uber for X,’ but Uber is actually the Uber for Asia,” said Kalanick, who also co-founded the company. “The folks that use Uber as an inspiration will always be a few steps behind.”
While Uber has faced protests by taxi drivers in cities from Boston to Berlin, Kalanick said he hasn’t seen any such opposition from cabbies in Asia.
Though it’s been available in Hong Kong for weeks on a trial basis, Uber is counting today as the beginning of its service in the city, under the leadership of Sam Gellman. Hong Kong is also one of the richer cities Uber is operating in, so reserving an UberBlack will call in a Mercedes-Benz S-class, as opposed to India, where it would be a Toyota Corolla. While Uber is now available in most of Asia, Macau and Hanoi are among the few major cities it has yet to expand into.
In China, where Uber began operations in Beijing this week, the company is competing against the likes of Alibaba-backed Hangzhou Kuaidi Technology Co. Ltd. Kuaidi has traditionally been focusing on an app for local taxi-booking and it recently introduced a service called “Kuaidi One” that offers high-end car bookings in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hangzhou.
Among other Uber-like services, Beijing-based Yongche.com is even planning to enter the U.S. market by targeting Chinese travelers, while GrabTaxi has become Southeast Asia’s largest taxi-booking mobile app and has attracted the likes of Temasek Holdings Pte as investors.
In terms of Uber’s valuations, Kalanick said he’ll do “everything in my power so that it continues to go up.” Bill Maris, managing partner of the Google Inc.’s venture capital arm that’s invested in Uber, has said the ride-sharing company may someday reach a valuation exceeding $200 billion.
To contact the reporters on this story: Lulu Yilun Chen in Hong Kong at firstname.lastname@example.org; Karolina Miziolek in Hong Kong at email@example.com To contact the editors responsible for this story: Michael Tighe at firstname.lastname@example.org Young-Sam Cho, Robert Fenner