Olivia Parker
Apr 23, 2018

Grab wants to overhaul entire SE Asian transport system

Following its recent acquisition of Uber's business in the region, Grab president Ming Maa discusses Grab's evolution from its beginnings as a ride-sharing platform.

Ming Maa, president of Grab
Ming Maa, president of Grab

Grab’s deal with Uber has been “transformational”, said Grab president Ming Maa, speaking at the Wall Street Journal’s D.Live conference in Hong Kong.

Grab’s acquisition of Uber’s Southeast Asia operations, which was announced on 26 March, caps a “tremendous”, record-breaking 2017 for the company, according to Maa. It extends Grab’s geographical footprint in the region from 30 to 200 cities in eight different countries (Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam), with 90 million customers now using the platform.

“This is the first time a local Southeast Asian company has demonstrated its ability to develop a world-class, enduring technology business. It demonstrates our ability to compete against worldwide companies,” said Maa, who joined Grab in 2016 from SoftBank Group.

While Maa acknowledged there were “ups and downs” during the merger, he said the acquisition was driven by the two companies who both felt it was "the right time.”

Given that the deal also included Uber’s food-delivery service, UberEats, Grab now hopes to proceed to its next stage of growth as a “four-sided marketplace”, explained Maa, with 3 million drivers, 3 million agents, merchants such as restaurants and other small to medium enterprises and consumers making up the four dimensions.

“The real vision for our business now is to develop the most relevant offline-to-online platform in the region. If we can really become relevant for consumers in their everyday lives then we can go to the centre and the core of daily commerce, whether that’s ride sharing or delivering your food.”

Maa outlined a full daily schedule that could in theory be coordinated via Grab. “You wake up, you order a car to go to your office, for lunch you grab a takeaway meal. You order a bicycle or a cab to go to your meeting, you order a delivery before you head home and when you get home you pay your bills, your electricity, all through Grab Pay.”

Beyond the day-to-day, the big picture plan for Grab going forward will be to transform Southeast Asia's transportation value chain, said Maa.

“If you look at the South Asian markets, public infrastructure has lagged behind the massive population growth across all cities and territories. Consumers rely on private service providers like ourselves to get from A to B but the problem is that if everyone uses ride-sharing, it compounds the traffic congestion that’s endemic throughout region. The real oppprtunity for us is to tie together the public and private sectors and make the entire transportation system more efficient and more reliable.”

Maa said he had no comment when asked about reports that Alibaba may be interested in investing in Grab. 

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