Uber’s main rival in China, the ride-hailing app Didi Kuaidi, is making a move in the States by partnering with Lyft, Uber’s sole competitor here. The deal involves money, of course: Didi Kuaidi put $100 million into Lyft earlier this year. But it also means that Lyft’s American users can easily use Didi Kuadi’s services in China, and the same goes for the Chinese app’s customers when they arrive in the U.S.
This is Lyft’s first international play. Until today, the company had focused solely on domestic expansion, which means Uber’s only competition overseas is homegrown services like Didi Kuaidi. You won’t see Lyft branding in China as part of this deal, but the ridesharing app will start letting you hail Didi cars through the Lyft app early next year. Didi offers a range of ride-hailing options: black cars, taxis, ridesharing, bus service, and chauffeurs. In a survey of Chinese users, Didi ranked second only to messaging app WeChat in a list of must-use apps.
Didi currently operates in 360 Chinese cities, far more than Uber, which only offers rides in about 20 cities. The company has more than 80 percent of the private car service market and 90 percent of the taxi-hailing market, so Lyft users will have plenty of cars to choose from when they visit China.
Lyft is growing in the U.S., but still only operates in 65 U.S. cities. To compare, Uber services 338 cities worldwide. Lyft cofounder John Zimmer didn’t say how Didi’s investment would help the app take on Uber, but the partnership is clearly Didi’s coming out party in the States, a chance for the Chinese app to introduce itself to American users. Didi Kuaidi President Jean Liu said during a New York City press event Wednesday that she thinks Didi’s “hitch” feature, their version of ride-sharing with peers, would be popular in the U.S. And Didi is envisioning ways to appeal to American Lyft users when they visit China.
“We’re thinking of adding a feature for U.S. travelers so when you come to China, you will be able to access a Chinese driver who speaks English when you turn on the Lyft app on Didi’s network,” Liu said.
Zimmer also wouldn’t say whether the move in China is a signal of future international plans, but it looks like the company isn’t content to always be the runner-up ride-hailing app.