ComfortDelGro and Uber in talks over potential alliance

ComfortDelGro announces exclusivity letter with Uber

Singapore's biggest taxi operator ComfortDelGro is in talks with Uber over a possible alliance which could see its 15,500 cabs made available on the ride-hailing firm's app.

It could also lead to cooperation in fleet management.

Uber is estimated to have in excess of 15,000 cars here, with a utilisation rate of up to 90 per cent.

All other local taxi companies have similar tie-ups with Grab, Uber's main rival here.

In its statement to Singapore Exchange yesterday, listed ComfortDelGro said it has signed an "exclusivity letter with Uber" for discussions to forming a "potential strategic alliance".

But it added that "there is no certainty or assurance that such discussions... will result in any definitive agreement or transaction", and advised investors to act with caution.

When contacted, Uber said it had nothing to add to the news.

Grab was also not immediately available for comment.

Mr Neo Nam Heng, chairman of diversified motor group Prime, which has about 700 cabs, said: "Everybody is looking for ways to sustain their business.

"The other cab companies have tied up with Grab, so Comfort has to do the same."

ComfortDelGro had previously tried to tie up with British start-up Karhoo, which claimed to be a rival to Uber.


But that came to nought when Karhoo closed its Singapore office last year amid uncertainty over its financial viability.

Industry watchers said an alliance made economic sense, but could favour Uber more than it would ComfortDelGro.

Research analyst Abhishek Nigam at stockbroking firm Nomura said: "In the short term, it is positive for ComfortDelGro. Its taxi drivers will see more bookings, and that in turn will mean (a) better hired out rate. Its fleet has come down big time."

ComfortDelGro's fleet has shrunk by 5 per cent since Uber and Grab set up in Singapore in 2013.

Its hired out rate is estimated to have also gone from 98 per cent to as low as 93.

"But long-term, it gives more power to Uber, as more and more people will use Uber's app rather than Comfort's booking platforms," Mr Nigam noted, adding that this will erode the taxi group's profit margins, and "it might become merely a supplier of cars".

Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) economist and senior lecturer Walter Theseira said ComfortDelGro "has to ensure they participate in developing and owning the core technologies which are based on predicting, analysing and matching transport demand and supply".

"If they don't, they are basically giving up on the future of transport," he added.

"So it's hard to understand right now if ComfortDelGro will own and develop anything or if they will just become a supplier of vehicles and drivers."

At the end of trading yesterday, ComfortDelGro's stock fell two cents to close at $2.17, its lowest since mid-2014.