HONG KONG • Alibaba founder Jack Ma may team up with SoftBank Group's Masayoshi Son in a US$1.5 billion (S$2.07 billion) investment in ride-hailing start-up Grab, said people familiar with the matter.
The investment was being led by SoftBank earlier this year and aimed at giving the Singaporean start-up cash to battle Uber Technologies in South-east Asia, said the people, asking not to be named because the matter is private.
Didi Chuxing, the largest ride-hailing company in China and a Grab backer already, is also considering participating in the round, they said.
The Ma investment, which may come from Alibaba Group Holding or its payments affiliate Ant Financial, would bring his competition with arch rival Tencent Holdings to South-east Asia.
An alliance with Grab would let Mr Ma market Ant Financial's digital payment service, Alipay, to millions of riders in the region, where Tencent has already partnered with Grab's biggest competitor to promote its own payment service.
Alibaba and Grab declined to comment. Didi did not reply to a request for comment.
China's two Internet giants are shifting their gaze abroad as growth in their home market slows and they seek to justify market valuations that are now among the highest in the world. They have focused particularly on South-east Asia, a region with twice the population of the United States and the largest Chinese diaspora in the world.
Tencent and Alibaba are entangled in a battle to lure more people to use their digital wallets, and ride hailing is an important channel to help them win market share.
Grab already has a partnership with Ant Financial, under which riders can use Alipay via the Grab app.
Tencent is said to be investing in Go-Jek - another local rival to Uber - and it is also a major shareholder in Didi.
If Didi decides to put more money into Grab, it would underscore how the Chinese ride-hailing company and Tencent have been driven into rival camps when it comes to investment. The pair back competing Chinese bike-rental firms.
Grab's financing could be a record for South-east Asia, eclipsing the previous watermark of US$750 million it set last September, in a round said to have given it a valuation of more than US$3 billion.
SoftBank will provide most of the funding in Grab's latest round. It is said to be pledging about US$1 billion; it is not clear if the money was coming from the Japanese firm itself or its mega SoftBank Vision Fund.
Grab, also backed by Tiger Global Management and GGV Capital, and Go-Jek have locked horns in multiple cities in Indonesia, the region's largest economy. Along with Uber, the firms have engaged in a cash-burning battle underpinned by their ability to raise funds and expand in one of the fastest-growing markets globally.