Chinese car booking services provider Yongche.com is spreading its footprint to the United States, the home turf of rival Uber, by offering something new — Putonghua-speaking drivers.
Starting with San Francisco and New York, Yongche plans to tap various American cities, as well as take the service to other places across the world. The targeted markets include London, Frankfurt, Singapore, Taipei and Tokyo, all popular destinations for Chinese tourists.
Yongche founder and chief executive Zhou Hang thinks the overseas market offers huge potential. “Most Chinese don’t speak English; they find it hard to communicate with foreign drivers, so we will now provide Chinese speaking drivers,” Sina technology portal quoted Zhou as saying.
Expanding Yongche’s business to overseas cities could boost the company’s customer numbers tenfold from the current level.
Nearly 100 million Chinese traveled overseas last year, an increase of 18 percent compared to 2012, according to the China National Tourism Administration.
Last December, online travel agency Ctrip.com invested US$60 million in Yongche. Following the tie-up, Yongche now promotes its airport pickup services to customers who book international air tickets through Ctrip.com.
Yongche has been expanding fast since its debut in 2010. The group’s service now covers 57 cities in China including Hong Kong; and it has 2 million active users and 50,000 contract drivers. The company plans to expand its business to over 150 cities around the world next year.
By following Chinese customers overseas and tapping support from Ctrip, Zhou aims to boost Yongche’s value to match that of Uber in two years.
Uber, which has just finished its latest round of fundraising, currently commands a valuation of US$17 billion. The US firm is now present in 37 countries and 128 cities. It started providing services in Taiwan and China since this year.
Yongche does not own any cars itself. Instead, it has a platform that matches idle vehicles in the market with customers. Some taxi drivers fear the new car rental model may choke the taxi industry, but Zhou insists that his company offers customers more customized services and wider choices.
Yongche’s system will reward drivers who provide good service by saving their profiles and offering them priority for future jobs, Zhou told Bloomberg. This could incentivize drivers to do a better job.
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