The latest Chinese craze: test driving a new Mercedes-Benz, Audi or Lincoln via Didi Kuaidi, the nation’s top car-hailing app

No. of test rides hits a whopping 1.4 million in 90 days, allowing company to hail new service as resounding success amid quickly swelling portfolio

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 January, 2016, 6:04pm
UPDATED : Monday, 14 March, 2016, 2:27pm

Since China’s top car-hailing app operator Didi Kuaidi launched Didi Test Drive in October allowing customers to take one of 92 models for a spin in six Chinese cities, the cumulative number of test drives has hit 1.4 million, the company said on Wednesday.

As the company is engaged in a de facto battle with San Francisco-based rival Uber for the hearts and minds of the Chinese populace, the new service is as much about selling cars as attracting and retaining customers.

Didi controls about 70 per cent of the domestic ride-hailing market but Uber announced plans late last year to expand into a further 100 Chinese cities within 12 months.

Both have received huge levels of investment, while Didi has been on a mission recently to seal partnerships with Uber’s competitors in various Asian markets and even with US-based Lyft.

READ MORE: China’s Didi Kuaidi hires Yahoo! co-founder Jerry Yang as senior adviser as battle with rival Uber rages on

Under the new test-driving programme, customers can choose from 19 brands including Toyota, Mercedes-Benz, Lincoln and Audi and models priced from 100,000 yuan (US$15,260) to 1 million yuan. The service is available at present in only a handful of top-tier and wealthy cities: Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Chengdu in Sichuan province and leafy Hangzhou in eastern Zhejiang.

Meanwhile, Didi also began working last month with carmakers and dealers to sell cars online. It said the first 200 new cars it put on the platform sold out within two hours.

Lei Zhu, vice president of Didi Test Drive, said the data and networking capabilities from the new platform has accurately grasped customers’ car usage and purchasing needs for the first time.

READ MORE: Social media on wheels: China’s Didi Kuaidi ‘no longer a taxi app’, offers networking service as daily rides hit 7 million

“The peer-to-peer information- and experience -sharing on the platform also underlines Didi Kuaidi’s firm commitment to the sharing economy,” Zhu said.

“Placed between car manufacturers and dealers, Didi Kuaidi is in the best position to create customised intermediary services,” Zhu added.

Since last year, the company, which is backed by Chinese internet giants Tencent and Alibaba, has been trying to forge an image for itself as the world’s largest one-stop mobile transportation network in bid to shake off the stigma of being an illegal taxi service.

In September it changed the name of its main app from Didi Dache to Didi Chuxing - the second word shifted in meaning from “hail a cab” to “commute” to represent the company’s broadening portfolio - and reissued an upgraded version of the app.

This reflected how it has expanded from a way to call a nearby taxi in minutes using a smartphone app to incorporate other services including private car hailing, social ride-sharing (its Hitch service), chauffeur and minibus services.

It offers these services in up to 360 cities in China for over 250 million users.

The company also plans to experiment with a cross-city car-hailing service over Chinese New Year, which falls early next month, to aid world’s biggest human migration, it said.

The explosive growth of car-hailing apps, including Didi Kuaidi, Uber and lesser-known Chinese brands like Ucar, has spurred a nationwide backlash from taxi companies in China.

This included office raids by local authorities and police stings on drivers working for the competing apps in several key cities last year including Hong Kong.

Thousands of taxi drivers launched a joint protest against ride-hailing apps in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen on Monday, leaving the metropolis short of taxis.

The situation was especially fraught at customs borders, transport terminals, airport terminals and hospitals. Three suspects were apprehended with one detained, according to the local public security bureau in this famous manufacturing hub in Guangdong province.

After the incident, transport authorities in the city pledged to crack down on commercial vehicles operating illegally within its boundaries.