[HONG KONG] Didi Kuaidi is close to raising about US$2 billion in its latest round of funding, as China's largest ride-hailing service battles Uber Technologies Inc for dominance in the world's biggest market, according to people familiar with the matter.
Uber's largest competitor plans to close the round in the next few weeks with a valuation of about US$25 billion, said the people, who asked not to be named because the matter is private. That would make it the fourth-most valuable startup in the world after Uber, Xiaomi Corp and Airbnb Inc, according to the research firm CB Insights.
Didi and Uber are competing for preeminence in China as the ride-hailing market surges. Didi, backed by top Internet companies Alibaba Group Holding Ltd and Tencent Holdings Ltd, jumped out to lead the market.
But Uber is spending heavily to catch up and has said China could eventually become its largest market. Both need capital to pay for recruiting drivers and subsidizing customer fares.
"You have to be large players with significant scale, they're the ones able to continue to raise capital at the expense of the smaller guys," said Chi Tsang, an analyst at HSBC Securities Asia Ltd.
"The smaller guys are dying." A Didi spokeswoman declined to comment on the fundraising in an e-mailed statement.
Shares of Tencent rose as much as 1.1 per cent in Hong Kong.
Didi had been seeking to raise US$1 billion in February and raised the target to US$1.5 billion in April, people familiar with the matter had said. The latest increase in fundraising was due in part to strong demand, the people said.
Didi will be profitable "soon", Vice President of Strategy Stephen Zhu said at the Credit Suisse Asian Investment Conference in Hong Kong last month, without giving a specific time frame.
If Didi completes the fundraising, it will be another sign of resilience in the China startup market, even as their US counterparts struggle. Alibaba's finance affiliate, Ant Financial, raised US$4.5 billion last month, a record for a private technology company. The previous record had been set in January when China's group-buying service Meituan Dianping raised US$3.3 billion.
Both Uber and Didi have raised money at a rapid clip to fuel a costly fight. On-demand car services have taken off around the world as mobile usage expands and riders seek simpler or quicker alternatives to taxis and public transportation.
Yet Uber and its rivals can lose money on rides because they rely on subsidies to attract customers, especially as they enter new markets.
Didi raised US$3 billion last year, which valued it at US$16.5 billion, a person familiar with the matter said at the time. The company formed an international coalition with Lyft Inc in the US, India's Ola and Southeast Asia's Grab to fight a globally expanding Uber.
Didi, which operates in more than 400 cities across China, expects to be able to serve some 30 million riders and 10 million drivers daily by the year's end.