5. Didi Chuxing

Persephone Kavallines

Founder: Cheng Wei (CEO)
Launched: 2012
Headquarters: Beijing
$24.9 billion (PitchBook)
Valuation: $62 billion (PitchBook)
Key technologies:
Artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, deep learning, Internet of Things, machine learning
Previous appearances on Disruptor 50 List: 3 (No. 30 in 2020)

Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing, also known as Didi, has amassed more than 550 million users and 31 million drivers since taking to the streets of Beijing nine years ago. Today, Didi is among a tidal wave of Chinese companies rushing to go public in the red-hot IPO market. Last month, the ride-hailing giant was said to be raising $1.5 billion in debt financing ahead of a blockbuster U.S. public offering.

Didi was most recently valued at $62 billion following an August fundraising round, according to PitchBook data. Both Bloomberg and Reuters report that the company could be looking at a $100 billion valuation at the time of its Wall Street debut.

Last May, Didi president Jean Liu told CNBC that the company's core ride-hailing business is profitable, and that it has picked up again after the coronavirus outbreak hit China, its home market. Beyond China, the company operates in 14 overseas markets, including Australia, Japan, Latin America and Mexico.

A major Didi ambition is to launch fleets of driverless cars in a number of locations in China, in line with the Chinese government's vision of building a "comprehensive digital infrastructure network" based on high-tech innovations like deep learning, machine learning, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things.

In 2019, the company spun off its autonomous driving unit in a move designed to focus and designate more resources toward business development and product innovation. Didi established its autonomous driving team in 2016, when Uber sold its China business to the company, a notable exit by the U.S. ride-hailing giant from the region which exposed Didi to an international customer base. SoftBank played an influential role in that decision and has since led a $500 million fundraising round in Didi's autonomous driving division.

Didi Labs has employed more than 500 people in China, as well as at its Mountain View, California research facility, where it has been working with various auto manufacturers like Volkswagen and Toyota Motors to test core innovative technologies. Last month, Chinese-owned Swedish carmaker Volvo signed an agreement to provide cars to Didi for its self-driving test fleet. Volvo will provide XC90 SUVs equipped with backup steering and braking systems that Didi will integrate with Didi Gemini, its new self-driving hardware platform.

With that technology, the company plans to further roll out a so-called "robo-taxi" service that today operates in Shanghai. Once the product is live, the idea is that users will be able to hail self-driving cars through the firm's app. Didi currently has licenses to test self-driving cars on the roads in Beijing, Hefei and Suzhou, as well as California in the U.S.

Contributed by Riley de León

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