Three months ago, Uber made headlines by saying it would expand in 50 new Chinese cities in a year. On Tuesday, CEO Travis Kalanick doubled the stakes, saying that Uber now plans to enter 100 new Chinese cities in 12 months.
Kalanick made his revised promise in Beijing at a conference hosted by Chinese Internet giant Baidu, the biggest investor in Uber's China unit.
The U.S. ride-hailing giant is pushing forward in China despite intense — and capital-heavy — competition from Didi Kuaidi, the homegrown, newly-merged company that has raised Uber-sized funds to hold on to its lead in China.
While Uber has reportedly raised $1.2 billion for its China efforts, Didi Kuaidi is close to raising $3 billion – it raised $2 billion in July and is closing in on an additional $1 billion, according to a source close to the effort.
Uber operates in close to 20 Chinese cities — far fewer than Didi Kuaidi, which is in 360 cities and had a two-year head start on the China market from its days as two competing rivals, Didi Dache and Kuaidi Dache. While the two started as taxi-hailing companies, Uber has always done private-car hails — though in recent months, Didi Kuaidi has prioritized its private-car products, which now account for almost half of its ride volume.
It's unclear how much business there is for Uber outside of China's biggest cities, though Didi Kuaidi's path forward suggests there are significant gains to be made. Uber's current presence is top-heavy and pulls 88% of its business from its 10 biggest cities, according to a June report from RedTech Advisors. Didi Kuaidi, on the other hand, is more spread out: 50% of its business is from its top 10 cities.
Uber, which has rolled over governments and taxi lobbies in most of the 60 countries where it operates, can no longer play the scrappy role — except in places like China and India, where it has promised to invest billions of dollars and faces competition from strong local players determined to win on their home turf. There, Kalanick can still get the thrill of being the underdog.