Ride-hailing giant Didi wants to be more than just the Uber of China

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A user opens the Didi Chuxing ride-hailing smartphone app in Shanghai, China, on Sept. 18, 2020.

Qilai Shen | Bloomberg | Getty Images

BEIJING — China’s version of Uber, Didi Chuxing, is trying to use car travel as a way into multiple aspects of daily life from grocery shopping to finance.

Didi filed Thursday to list in New York in what many expect could be the largest initial public offering in the world this year. Founded in 2012, the company ranks among the five largest privately held start-ups in the world and counts SoftBank, Uber and Tencent as major investors.

Smartphone-based ride hailing in China remains Didi’s primary business, generating $20.4 billion in revenue last year amid overall net losses of $1.62 billion, according to the prospectus. But as Didi swung to a profit in the first quarter of this year, the revenue share of “other initiatives” rose to 5%, from 4% for all of 2020. That’s up from 1.2% in 2018.

A quick look at Didi’s smartphone app reveals a slew of other products tied to bike sharing, movers, personal finance and gas stations. The array of icons resembles that of Alibaba-affiliated Alipay, whose app is not only a mobile pay platform but one that allows users to book airplane tickets and pay for utilities. Similarly, Southeast Asia’s prevailing ride-hailing app Grab delivers food and wants to become a regional leader in mobile payments.

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Didi has also partnered with China Merchants Bank for supporting credit card applications through the ride-hailing app and offering installment purchase plans for cars. A Didi subsidiary works with Ping An Insurance to sell financing and lease-related products, as well as insurance.

The start-up leases vehicles to drivers at prices it claims are about 20% lower than outside Didi’s platform. While more than 600,000 vehicles are available for lease, about half of these are owned by roughly 3,000 vehicle leasing partners, reducing the amount of assets Didi is responsible for, the prospectus said.

Anecdotally, Didi was recently promoting its own mobile payment system to some users in Beijing by setting it as the default payment option — with a discount. Users had to manually select other options such as WeChat pay, after which the discount was removed.

Didi’s ride-hailing app also works with international credit cards. The company operates in 15 countries, including Brazil, Mexico and Japan.

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