Uber has agreed to sell its business in Southeast Asia to local rival Grab.
Grab is taking over Uber’s ride-hailing business in eight countries and Uber Eats, which is currently present in three. In exchange, Uber gets a 27.5 percent stake in Grab and Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi will join Grab’s board.
Southeast Asia is seen as a growth market thanks to a population of over 600 million people, many of whom are coming online for the first time, but it is also considered a loss-making market for new industries like ride-sharing — particularly when two companies are locked in a subsidies war.
This consolidation has been strongly rumored since SoftBank, an early investor in Grab, backed Uber via an investment in January.
Grab’s plan to shutter Uber’s app quickly following its merger deal in Southeast Asia has hit another snag in Singapore where the ride-hailing firm has been forced to delay closing its rival’s service until May 7.
This is the second time that Grab has pushed back the removal of Uber’s app in Singapore, which was initially scheduled for closure on April 8 but was given an additional week as part of an investigation from the Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore (CCCS) which is assessing the merger deal. This new May 7 date is also down to the CCCS probe, with the commission issuing an ‘Interim Measures Directions’ (IMD) to Grab in order to “ensure that the market remains open and contestable.”
Those directives — which Grab said it has had a hand in formulating — include measures that prevent Grab from taking Uber’s operational data on customers and their trip history, prevent lock-in and exclusivity options for drivers that join Grab or move over from Uber’s Lion City Rental entity, and end any exclusive deals Grab has with Singapore taxi firms.
The CCCS has also ruled that Grab and the Uber service must maintain prices for passengers and drivers, and remind both that their migration to the Grab platform is optional.
The ruling impacts the Singapore market only, which is where Grab is registered. The Uber app has already been closed in six other markets where it operated in Southeast Asia, while the UberEats service will fold into GrabFood by the end of May. Elsewhere, Uber’s ride-hailing service is scheduled to be closed on April 16 in the Philippines where, like Singapore, the regulator had handed down a week-long extension while it looked into the merger deal.
In both extensions, Grab is the one footing the bill for the continued operation of Uber since the U.S. firm has already exited these markets, in terms of funding and staffing, Uber’s head of operations for Asia Pacific has said.
The CCCS previously said that it has “reasonable grounds” to suspect that the Grab-Uber deal may fall foul of section 54 of Singapore’s Competition Act. The Philippine Competition Commission is still looking into the and there’s no word on whether it will follow the CCCS’ lead and force Grab to keep the Uber app open for a longer period.
The Singapore ruling is a blow for Grab which set out an aggressive two-week timeframe for closing Uber in Southeast Asia, having contacted regulators in advance of the deal which sees it pick up a dominant slice of app-based taxi books across eight countries in Southeast Asia. The key question for regulators, however, appears to be whether app-based hailing is a market unto itself, or whether it is part of the wider taxi market.
If regulators chose the former option, then Uber-Grab almost certainly creates a monopoly, but since consumers can also hail apps in more traditional ways — e.g. on the street — or via taxi companies’ dedicated apps — as is the case in Singapore — then the deal hasn’t created a dominant player. It’s certainly a tricky one to assess.