China’s biggest ride-hailing platform Didi Chuxing said on Tuesday that it has launched ride-hailing services in the Tatarstan Republic, part of the Russian Federation, as it resumes its global expansion following the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Why it matters: This marks Didi’s first expansion into the European market after concentrating global expansion efforts in South America over the past three years. Overseas expansion is a key driver for its business growth given slowing momentum in its domestic market.

Details: Didi has launched a ride-hailing service in Kazan, the capital city of the Tatarstan Republic, through partnerships with local commercial fleets and hiring self-employed drivers, a company spokeswoman said on Wednesday.

  • Driver recruitment started in late July, according to an announcement. It did not disclose its local partners or the size of its fleet.
  • Didi began searching this year for local talent across Russia, including in St. Petersburg, Russian media reported citing persons familiar with the matter, and is looking to expand operations to cities including Moscow and Yekaterinburg by year-end.
  • The ride-hailing giant is reportedly (in Chinese) taking an aggressive approach, undercutting rivals with a low commission rate of 5% during the launch period starting late July, compared with the average 15% to 20% in the Russian market. Didi declined to reveal further details about the launch campaign.
  • Chinese companies are well-known for their aggressive pricing policies, according to Anatoly Smorgonskiy, the Russia head of Israeli mobility startup Gett, who spoke with TechNode on Wednesday.
  • He expects that Didi’s launch in Russia will lead to increased competition in the market over the medium term, and small local players will leave or consolidate.
  • Didi will go head-to-head with its archrival Uber, which in early 2018 formed a ride-hailing joint venture with Yandex.Taxi, a subsidiary of the country’s search engine giant Yandex, through a merger, according to a Reuters report.
  • “Russia is a large market for taxi services… but the competition is also quite high,” said Viktor Dima, senior analyst at Russian investment company Aton. Moscow-based Aton has been a Didi investor since 2019.  
  • Given the pool of well-established players in the market, Didi’s success in Russia may depend on how much it intends to invest. “We should not exclude that Didi will probably have to partner with one of the local majors, just as Uber did with Yandex,” Dima said.
  • Sovereign wealth fund, Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), is a Didi investor. RDIF’s CEO Kirill Dmitriev told CNBC earlier this year that it was looking at the Russian market with Didi.
  • Analysts view Russia to be among the most dynamic ride-hailing markets in the world, due to the poor public transportation infrastructure in a vast territory, Russian financial newspaper Kommersant reported last July based on an HSBC study.
  • Tatarstan Republic is one of Russia’s most economically developed regions. Didi’s senior vice president Stephen Zhu said a better and safer ride-hailing service will help rebuild the post-pandemic local economy.  

Context: Didi is accelerating its overseas expansion. The company set ambitious global targets including 100 million daily trips and 800 million monthly active users as part of its three-year growth plan.

  • CEO Cheng Wei in April said Didi had clocked more than 1 billion rides in overseas markets as of early this year. It has operations in nine countries including Mexico, Costa Rica, Australia, and Japan.
  • The company marched into Latin America with a $100 million investment in Brazil-based taxi on-demand service 99 in early 2017, followed by a $1 billion acquisition one year later.
  • In 2017, Didi invested in an Estonia-based ride-hailing startup, Bolt, but its presence in the Russian ride-sharing market is barely noticeable, according to Smorgonskiy.

Updated: The story was updated on Aug. 28 to include Didi’s response on the commission rate and comments from Anatoly Smorgonskiy of Gett and Viktor Dima of Aton. 

Jill Shen

Jill Shen is Shanghai-based technology reporter. She covers Chinese mobility, autonomous vehicles, and electric cars. Connect with her via e-mail: jill.shen@technode.com or Twitter: @yushan_shen