Since last year car-hailing giant Didi Chuxing has been raising over US$15 billion, even after it won the costly competitive struggle with Uber. Beida business professor Jeffrey Towson sees at his weblog four reasons why Didi continues to raise so much capital. Here are two of them.
Explanation 3: Going international.
Another natural use of the newly raised funds would be to expand abroad given that Chinese app users are already going abroad in great numbers. Didi led a $100 million fundraising round for Brazilian ride-sharing app 99 in January and earlier invested in India’s Ola, Southeast Asia’s Grab and American app Lyft as part of an alliance of the four companies to take on Uber globally. In March, Didi opened an R&D center in Silicon Valley. I would not be surprised to see another string of international investments over the next twelve months, especially in Southeast Asia.
Explanation 4: There is a big disruption coming.
In theory, self-driving cars (i.e., autonomous driving) could reduce costs dramatically for Didi. Some reports suggest that driver fees, insurance and driver acquisition costs add up to two-thirds of the company’s operating expenses.
However, the cost-saving argument misses the bigger implication of self-driving cars. If the technology is successful, it could wipe out the business model and competitive advantage of most ride-sharing services and could be a body blow to Didi’s current business.
The reason this sector has consolidated down to just one or two dominant companies per region is because of the powerful economics of two-sided platforms. To get drivers, you need riders. To get riders, you need lots of drivers. Being bigger in a region not only creates a superior service — since more drivers means shorter wait times for pick up — it also creates an insurmountable barrier for new entrants.
Self-driving cars will disrupt this competitive strength. If you no longer need drivers, you no longer have a two-sided network. Didi and Uber will then be exposed to new entrants with good cars, clever technology and different operating systems. Self-driving cars could make driver-rider networks obsolete or marginal at best.
So Didi and Uber have a strategic imperative to transition to this new technology and search for a new source of competitive advantage. This could be by becoming the transportation ecosystem in which self-driving cars operate. It could be by becoming the operating system, the “Microsoft of moving computers.” It could be by integrating with public transportation services. Possibly though there may just not be an opportunity to be so dominant in this emerging market.
Google, Apple, Uber and lots of major Chinese companies are rushing into self-driving cars (article here). One to keep an eye on in China is Baidu. It is developing an open-source autonomous driving platform involving hardware, software and cloud data services. This could enable lots more automotive and autonomous driving companies to enter the business. Code-named Apollo, Baidu’s project will provide capabilities in obstacle perception, trajectory planning, vehicle control and vehicle operating systems. Note that Baidu first successfully road tested its self-driving cars on the highways of Beijing back in December 2015.
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