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SoftBank to invest US$250m in taxi app firm GrabTaxi

Japanese mobile carrier SoftBank Corp said on Thursday it will invest US$250 million (S$328 million) in GrabTaxi, the largest mobile taxi booking app firm in Southeast Asia, to become its largest shareholder.

[SINGAPORE] Japanese telecoms firm SoftBank Corp has pumped in US$250 million (S$328 million) to become the top investor in Southeast Asian mobile taxi-booking application GrabTaxi Holdings, its biggest investment in a Southeast Asian Internet firm.

GrabTaxi, which allows customers to order cabs closest to their location by mobile phone, operates in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines. In a statement, the two companies said the funding will be used to accelerate the app's expansion in the region.

The investment in GrabTaxi comes about a month after SoftBank and its billionaire CEO and founder Masayoshi Son announced a US$627 million funding into online marketplace Snapdeal as part of a plan to put US$10 billion into India's booming online retail market.

SoftBank also said in October it will lead a US$210 million investment round with existing investors in India's ANI Technologies, which owns a mobile application for taxi bookings.

The Japanese firm is the largest investor in recently listed Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.

Including the SoftBank investment, GrabTaxi has raised US$340 million in funding. The statement did not specify how much of GrabTaxi SoftBank will own.

Other investors in GrabTaxi, which was developed by two Harvard Business School graduates and launched in Malaysia in 2012 as MyTeksi, include a unit of Singapore state investor Temasek Holdings and US investor Tiger Global Management. The app competes with Rocket Internet's Easy Taxi as well as Uber's better known app.

Taxi-hailing apps have become popular in Southeast Asia, especially Singapore, one of the most expensive places in the world to own a private car.

Finding a cab during peak hours and during frequent tropical downpours can be difficult in the city-state, which last month said it planned to start regulating third-party taxi booking services for the first time.

Heavy traffic in cities such as Manila and Jakarta also makes finding taxis tough.

Those troubles are benefitting apps such as GrabTaxi. Over the past year, the number of users of the mobile app has jumped six-fold to about half a million and taxi drivers in its network have grown four-fold to 60,000, according to the company.