Didi invests in its new challenger, the Tencent and GAC-owned ride-hailer OnTime

Technically it’s a rival, but OnTime’s ride-hailing concept differs slightly from Didi’s.

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Tencent announced that its ride-hailing app called OnTime (Ru Qi Chu Xing in Chinese) went online Wednesday evening, saying that it was jointly built with Guangzhou Automobile Group (GAC), Guangzhou Public Transport, and Didi Chuxing–China’s largest ride-hailing firm.

The launch went as scheduled. What’s new is that Tencent’s statement includes Didi, which had not been mentioned to be part of the new ride-hailing platform in previous public information.

The corporate structure of OnTime had always sounded convoluted. According to OnTime’s official WeChat channel, it is a mobility platform under automaker GAC.

Earlier this year, GAC had notified the Shanghai Stock Exchange that it would form a joint venture with a Tencent subsidiary, Tencent Mobility Limited, to establish a mobility platform. Its filing shows that GAC, Tencent, and Guangzhou Public Transport hold a 35%, 25%, and 10% stake respectively in the JV. The document also says 10% will be reserved for employee incentives, while the remaining 20% will be reserved for other unnamed investors, with each of them holding no more than a 5% stake.

Didi must have come in as one of these “unnamed investors.”

Yesterday, in a press release sent to KrAsia, Didi said that it signed a framework agreement on Wednesday with GAC “to expand their partnership on ride-hailing operations, fleet management, autonomous driving and other areas of smart automobile technology”. It also revealed that it became an investor in OnTime as part of the agreement.

“As an investor in OnTime, a mobile transportation platform newly launched by GAC Group, Didi will leverage on its data capabilities and deep operational expertise to support new projects in various areas,” the press release reads, without any mention of Tencent’s involvement in the JV. Tencent is also an investor in Didi, and technically, OnTime will be a competitor.

But in the release Didi’s founder Cheng Wei stresses Didi’s “committed to building an open, inclusive, mutually beneficial mobility ecosystem.”

Fleet owned by GAC

Tencent’s version of the announcement sheds some light on how OnTime will operate. It’s slightly different to Didi, which relies on taxis or cars owned by private drivers as the means of transportation and which has been plagued by safety issues due to two rape-and-murder cases last year.

OnTime’s ride-hailing concept will start in the city of Guangzhou first and plans to enter five more cities within one year with a fleet of nearly 10,000 new energy vehicles provided and owned by GAC. It added that on each of these vehicles, there will be safety measures, such as an emergency button to call the police.

In addition, each vehicle will come installed with Tencent’s smart, internet of things auto system, which will make the operation of the fleet more efficient as information such as remaining power in a battery will be all collected by its auto alliance platform for analysis.

Tencent said in the announcement that when automakers are transforming themselves into mobility service providers, it wants to be the tier-1 supplier for these companies. For Didi, the investment is a way to be part of broader transportation and mobility upgrade in China, that’s now becoming increasingly diverse and interconnected.