Lauren Goode

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Uber Sets Its Sights on Asia

Uber, the San Francisco-based company that powers a smartphone app for requesting car service, has been intently focused on expanding its footprint across North America and in parts of Europe (and has been fighting some regulatory battles along the way).

But while the company most recently has been testing in L.A. and Toronto, Uber founder and CEO Travis Kalanick has said it soon expects to tackle a much bigger market: Asia.

Kalanick said in a recent interview with AllThingsD that the company is aiming to establish a presence there by the end of this year. He declined to say which Asian cities Uber is targeting first, except to say it would focus on the “obvious” ones.

Uber, which launched in 2010 and late last year received $32 million in Series B funding, doesn’t own or directly manage fleets of cars, but acts a system through which town-car drivers can sign up and users can summon them — at a premium cost — through their smartphones. The app itself is free, and works on both iPhones and Android phones.

It has been recognized as a highly disruptive service, one that frequent customers praise for its ease of use, but also one that has raised the ire of taxicab commissions in some cities.

Uber also came under some criticism around the recent holiday season, when it charged riders surge prices on New Year’s Eve, due to high demand. Some customers complained that the information about surge pricing was not presented clearly to them through the app; Uber refunded customers on a case-by-case basis.

Kalanick wouldn’t offer specifics on Uber’s pricing plans for the future, though it’s expected that the company will continue to experiment with dynamic pricing as it manages town-car supply in different cities.

Outside of the seven U.S. cities that have Uber cars running, Uber is testing in Toronto and operates in Paris, and has expressed a desire to push further into Europe, aiming to reach around 25 cities worldwide in the next several months.

For some tech start-ups, expansion into Asia — especially China — presents unique challenges. And in cities like Singapore, Beijing and Hong Kong, there are already some services that allow people to summon a car or cab through an app, or that use GPS to help riders pick up other riders while in the cab (and thereby split costs).

But Kalanick isn’t overly concerned with either competition or regulatory roadblocks. “We’re dealing with city rules and regulations with every individual city we expand to,” he said. “For us, the challenges aren’t necessarily about which country we’re in.” For example, cab regulations in San Francisco mirror regulations in Paris, Kalanick said, while New York City is a different beast entirely.

(Photo courtesy of Flickr/Ilya Genkin)


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