Uber steps out of South East Asia, selling business to rival Grab

Move marks latest retreat by the world’s most valuable start-up from a rapidly expanding market

This photo illustration taken on March 26, 2018 shows the Grab booking application seen on a smart phone in Singapore. 
Singapore-based ride-hailing firm Grab announced on March 26 it has bought US rival Uber's business in Southeast Asia, ending a fierce battle for market share in the region. / AFP PHOTO / Roslan RAHMAN

Uber Technologies has agreed to sell its South East Asian operations to Grab, withdrawing from yet another fast-growing region to end a war of attrition with a fierce local rival.

Under the agreement, Grab will acquire all of Uber’s operations in a region of 620 million people, including food delivery service UberEats. The US ride-hailing behemoth in return gets a 27.5 per cent stake in Grab and its chief executive will join the board of the Singapore company.

The ceasefire marks a victory for Grab as well as SoftBank, the biggest shareholder in both companies. Masayoshi Son’s company is pushing to reduce competition in a South East Asian ride-hailing market forecast to reach $20.1 billion by 2025. Uber and Grab, together with two other SoftBank-backed ride-hailing firms - India’s Ola and China’s Didi Chuxing - provide about 45 million rides a day, according to SoftBank presentation material in February.

For San Francisco's Uber, pulling out of running its own business in South East Asia cuts back on losses ahead of a planned initial public offering in 2019. But the deal marks the latest retreat by the world’s most valuable start-up from a rapidly expanding arena: Uber sold its business in China to Didi in 2016 after a battle in which both burnt through cash to court drivers and riders with rich subsidies. Uber negotiated a similar move in Russia last year.

Shares in ComfortDelGro, Singapore’s largest taxi company, rose as much as 3 per cent on Monday.


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“Today’s acquisition marks the beginning of a new era. The combined business is the leader in platform and cost efficiency in the region,” Grab chief executive Anthony Tan said.

Uber chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi has been pushing to bolster the financials of a company that has burnt through $10.7bn since its founding nine years ago. Mr Khosrowshahi signalled during a trip through Asia last month that he is committed to other key markets such as Japan and India. But its latest exit suggests Uber is more than ever dependent on its home market of North America, not unlike Mr Khosrowshahi’s previous US-centric employer, Expedia.

For Mr Tan, the truce brings to an end a bruising battle for leadership in South East Asia.

Grab, which started out as a taxi-hailing app in Kuala Lumpur in 2012, became the region’s dominant ride-hailing service in past years with $4bn raised from investors. It was most recently valued at $6bn, according to CB Insights. Today, with more than 86 million mobile app downloads, it offers a wide range of ride-hailing services in 191 cities across Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar and Cambodia.

The deal “will help us double down on our plans for growth as we invest heavily in our products and technology”, Mr Khosrowshahi said.