Add Toyota Motor (TM) to the list of investors in ride-hailing service Grab, the startup that is looking to knock out Uber in Southeast Asia.
Grab (formerly known as GrabTaxi) is a technology company that offers a wide range of ride-hailing and logistics services through its app in Malaysia and neighbouring Southeast Asian nations such as Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, and Thailand. As of July 2016, the number of drivers registered in the network was over 350,000, and the Grab app was downloaded onto more than 19 million mobile devices across Southeast Asia.
Originally established in 2012 as MyTeksi in Malaysia, GrabTaxi is a Southeast Asian focused taxi-booking app founded by Harvard Business School graduates Anthony Tan and Tan Hooi Ling. The idea for GrabTaxi first started when Anthony Tan was a student at Harvard Business School and a classmate pulled him aside to gripe about how hard it was to hail a cab in Malaysia. Tan drew up a business plan for an Uber-like service that won backing from angel investors, leading the youngest of three brothers to quit the family business in 2012 to start GrabTaxi, a mobile application that assigns available cabs nearby to commuters using mapping and location-sharing technology. Tan pitched the idea to the panel of the 2011 Harvard Business Plan Competition, that led to them being placed second, making them the first all-Asian team to have succeeded in many years.
In 2016, Grab added in-app instant messaging to allow simple communication between riders and drivers. It also translates the messages if the languages between rider and driver are different.
Toyota Tsusho, the automaker’s trading arm, contributed an undisclosed amount to the current financing round led by SoftBank and Didi Chuxing, which is expected to raise a total of $2.5 billion. Grab said in late July that SoftBank and Didi would invest up to $2 billion, with the other $500 million to come from elsewhere.
Toyota also announced a partnership with Grab to install data-recording devices in 100 Grab vehicles and analyze driving patterns to “consider steps to deliver connected services including user-based insurance, financing programs, and predictive maintenance that make up the Toyota Mobility Service Platform.”
Grab, reportedly valued at around $6 billion, says its app has been downloaded over 55 million times. Grab says it has over 1.2 million drivers across 87 cities. Its services are most often used in Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, according to the company. Grab is the dominant ride-hailing operator in Southeast Asia
Uber also has a presence in those countries, but as this Bloomberg story illustrates, Grab has set itself apart from its American competitor by offering in-app translation services and accepting cash payments.
Seeking to cut losses, Uber exited the China market last year, taking a 17.5% stake in much-larger Didi, which boasts Alibaba and Tencent as backers. Uber recently reached a similar deal with Russian internet search engine Yandex. Uber will exit Russia and take a stake in Yandex’s ride-hailing operation.
Uber faces growing competition at home as No. 2 Lyft gains market share. But Lyft recently took a hit from a series of public-relations disasters that led to the ouster of founder Travis Kalanick as CEO earlier this year.
Uber said on Tuesday via blog post that it had appointed Expedia chief Dara Khosrowshahi as its new CEO.
Later Tuesday, Uber confirmed that it’s cooperating with a preliminary Justice Department probe into whether the company violated U.S. laws barring bribes of foreign officials.
Toyota shares rose 0.2% to 112.29 on the stock market today.