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Jean Liu is president of the ride-hailing startup. Photo credit: Didi Chuxing.

Updated January 4, 2018: Didi just confirmed it’s acquiring Brazil’s 99 in order to access Latin America. The original article below is unchanged.

Brazil is Uber’s third-largest market, with 17 million regular riders. And Sao Paulo is Uber’s biggest city on the planet in terms of rides.

That’s the prize eyed by China’s Didi, the ride-hailing startup that bought Uber’s China business in a shock 2016 deal.

Didi, which is yet to expand beyond its home country, is now plotting a move into Brazil by acquiring a local ride-hailing app, reported The Information yesterday, citing a person familiar with the talks.

Didi started 2017 by investing in 99, so the Chinese firm already has close alliances with the Brazilian startup it’s said to be buying a majority stake.

Formerly 99Taxi, 99 has 140,000 registered drivers in 550 cities across Brazil.

Not just Brazil

But wait, there’s more…

Didi is now plotting its launch in Taiwan, reported Bloomberg this week. The island’s strict stance on the use of private cars as a service means Didi will have to resort to working with cabbies and professional limo drivers.

Taipei, Taiwan

Taipei’s scooters. Photo credit: Andrew Haimerl / Unsplash.

Similarly, Uber operates in Taiwan in partnership with livery companies – an unusual situation the startup was forced into after being banned from the island for two months earlier in the year.

Yes, master

Behind all this transcontinental tussling is Japanese billionaire Masayoshi Son.

Masayoshi Son at SoftBank World 2016.

Masayoshi Son at SoftBank World 2016. Photo credit: @SoftBank.

The Softbank supremo has emerged as the puppet master of tech in the past few years, pulling the strings on the numerous startups that his firm, Softbank, has invested in, thanks to its numerous funds – including its latest US$100 billion war chest.

Not coincidentally, Softbank has invested in both Didi and 99, so Son – worth US$22 billion, according to Forbes – has it in his interests to steer the two ride-hailing apps towards a deal.

As the biggest, strongest, and most valuable of the puppets startups linked to Son, Didi stands to benefit the most from consolidation as it will have more power to dictate terms over smaller firms like 99 and Southeast Asia’s Grab.

But the ebullient 60-year-old might be about to complicate the picture by investing in Uber, with Softbank reportedly keen to invest up to US$10 billion – so long as Uber drops its price. In that scenario, it could be Uber that would be strengthened by gobbling up a series of small rivals.

Watch: Meet the two drivers behind China’s ride-hailing giant

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The Didi duoMeet the two drivers behind China's ride-hailing giant.

Posted by Tech in Asia on Sunday, 29 October 2017

This post Didi’s next trick is to go global appeared first on Tech in Asia.

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