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Didi eyes global expansion, battles Uber again in Latin America

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Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing launched new financial services in Brazil and Mexico on Wednesday as it expands in Latin America and again confronts Uber Technologies Inc.

[HONG KONG] Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing launched new financial services in Brazil and Mexico on Wednesday as it expands in Latin America and again confronts Uber Technologies Inc.

The privately held company, which was last valued at US$56 billion and facilitates 30 million rides a day, said it would partner financial institutions to offer drivers in Mexico and Brazil a bank card allowing them to receive income from daily rides, as well as withdraw cash or make purchases. Riders in Mexico will also be able to top up their Didi balances with cash at Oxxo, the country's largest convenience store chain.

"In Brazil, for instance, there are many people who can drive but they're not able to become Didi drivers mainly because they're unbanked. So we went ahead and started to offer banking services to them," Zheng Bu, head of Didi's International Business Technology division, said at the RISE tech conference in Hong Kong on Wednesday.

Didi's international expansion comes as its home market of China slows. Earlier this year, Bloomberg News reported the company would eliminate about 2,000 jobs or 15 per cent of its workforce. It is still trying to revamp its reputation with added safety measures after a regulatory and consumer backlash over passenger deaths last year hampered growth. This week, Didi said it would raise fares in Beijing to attract more qualified drivers and reduce shortages. And despite driving Uber out of China in 2016, the Chinese ride-hailing app has faced greater competition on its own turf from Meituan.

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Now, Didi will go up against Uber again as it expands in Latin America, Japan and Australia. "Yes we look at competition, but if you ask me what's the most important, it's serving our users," said Mr Zheng.

To win over new markets, Mr Zheng said the company was spending a lot of time trying to cater to local needs. In Japan, for instance, a driver told Mr Zheng that if he was going to accept rides on Didi, the company needed to provide him with a special set of white gloves, which are customary for taxi drivers in that country. In lieu of Didi-branded gloves, Mr Zheng said the company instead launched voice-activated controls in the Japanese version of its app.

He also said the company was investing in technology and people to overhaul its safety measures in China, and all over the world. Didi is now using facial recognition to verify that the person driving the car is the same who registered with the company. It's using geo-fencing and mapping software to flag rides that deviate from predicted routes or make unusual stops, and links with emergency responders who show up if cars stop mid-route for an extended period of time.

For its part, Uber called the renewed competition with Didi a healthy thing for the industry, despite their complicated relationship. Didi and Uber are investors in each other and share a major shareholder in Softbank Group Corp's Masayoshi Son.

"If you don't have competition then you can become complacent because there's no competition to challenge," Uber CTO Thuan Pham said during an interview at RISE on Tuesday. "This competition is definitely a very healthy thing."

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