SINGAPORE-BASED ride-booking platform GrabTaxi on Thursday rebranded as Grab and asserted its market dominance in South-east Asia, where it is focused - prompting some concern from rival Uber and industry watchers here.
The rebranding, said group chief executive and co-founder Anthony Tan, is meant to show that Grab is "much more than a taxi app" and to reflect its other services: private cars (GrabCar), motorcycle taxis (GrabBike), social carpooling (GrabHitch) and last mile delivery (GrabExpress).
It currently leads the region in third-party taxi booking, commanding 95 per cent of market share, Grab announced. In the private cars sector - at least in Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand where GrabCar operates - Grab reportedly has over 50 per cent of market share, to which an Uber executive said: "Imagination is a beautiful thing."
Mike Brown, Uber regional general manager for Asia-Pacific, told BT: "We are a private company, and our data is closely held. Speculation on private hire car market share without data is silly and invariably wrong."
He added: "As the first private car-hailing tech platform in this region, Uber has seen record-breaking growth in trip volume in South-east Asia in the last 12 months, and we expect the pace of growth to continue as we drive the region towards smarter and more efficient transportation."
In response, Grab's Mr Tan said: "We stand by our market analysis. As South-east Asia's largest land transport company, we have the most number of transport services that cater to all price points."
Grab reported that it has amassed over 200,000 drivers and 11 million app downloads across 28 cities since its launch in 2012. Mr Tan, speaking at a press briefing on Thursday, added that "certain verticals will be profitable this year" but did not elaborate.
App enhancements, which include a quicker two-click booking process and live driver tracking, were also unveiled. Notably, Grab's in-app credit card payment system GrabPay now supports multiple credit cards, allowing customers to easily toggle between cards depending on their trip type (ie, for business or leisure).
On Grab's rebranding, Yang Nan, assistant strategy and policy professor at the National University of Singapore Business School, said: "I see this as an indicator of a future trend - that riders just want to move from A to B efficiently and economically, and no longer necessarily by taxi."
But as private hire vehicles (PHV) gain prominence, the taxi industry will be penalised and hurt, warned Lee Der-Horng, director of the NUS-LTA Transport Research Centre.
He said: "It is very disappointing to see that the government has not rolled out the PHV regulatory framework. If Singapore has been poor in terms of taxi service levels, then introducing PHV may be strategic and even necessary. However, our taxi service levels, especially under the government's tight watch, have been pretty good."
The problem, pointed out Prof Lee, is the mismatch between demand and supply over time and space - a pain point that third-party ride-booking apps such as Grab and Uber have been known to capitalise on and attempt to resolve.
This comes as the Ministry of Transport said that it would study such apps, and where justified, level the playing field between private-hire drivers who offer their services through these apps and taxi drivers.
Just last month, Grab announced a global ride-share partnership with China's Didi Kuadi, India's Ola and the United States' Lyft to take on global player Uber. It also said this month that it would open an engineering centre in Seattle to build a dedicated engineering team in the US.