Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing is near an agreement to raise $5 billion to $6 billion for automated driving expansion, Bloomberg reported Wednesday. The financing round will lift Didi’s valuation to a cool $50 billion, up from a previous $34 billion after its acquisition of Uber’s China business. It would make the Beijing-based company the country’s top startup by market valuation, even surpassing handset maker Xiaomi, and the most valuable startup in the world after Uber.

The four-year-old startup has thus far focused on ride-hailing services in the domestic market, but that’s about to change as it looks to expand into more countries and invest in technologies from autonomous driving to artificial intelligence, as per Bloomberg.

From the article:

SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son encouraged Didi Chief Executive Officer Cheng Wei to take more capital so he won’t be constrained in pursuing new opportunities, one of the people said.

Son made a similar bet two decades ago on China e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., an investment that proved to be his most lucrative ever with a paper profit of $85 billion.

The investors entrusted voting rights to Didi’s management, according to one person familiar with the matter.

Needless to say, international expansion would put Didi into more direct competition with Google and Uber. Still, Didi may have no other choice but expand across the globe.

Since buying Uber’s China business, Didi has faced challenges in the country as major cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, have imposed stricter regulations that have crimped revenue growth. For instance, new regulations require that Didi drivers be local residents.

In May 2016, Apple announced a $1 billion investment in Didi, a move that Apple’s boss Tim Cook said would help his company “better understand the critical Chinese market.”

Didi called the Apple funding the single largest investment it has ever received. As of last May, Didi dominated the Chinese ride-sharing market, completing more than 11 million rides per day for an 87 percent of the market for private car-hailing in the country.

A regulatory filing following the deal revealed that Adrian Perica, Apple’s mergers and acquisitions chief, now represents the Cupertino giant on Didi’s board of directors. Perica played a major role in Apple’s $3 billion Beats acquisition, its largest acquisition to date.

The Apple deal was personally disappointing to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, say people who know him. In March, Didi opened an artificial intelligence lab in Mountain View, California, near Apple’s Cupertino headquarters, to focus on the development of intelligent driving systems.

It also staffed the new lab with high-profile names, including famed hacker and former Uber self-driving engineer Charlie Miller, known for remotely hacking into a Jeep Cherokee in 2015, and Jia Zhaoyin, a senior software engineer at Google’s self-driving project Waymo.

Didi has amassed data on 300 million users across some 400 cities.

Apple is rumored to have about 1,000 engineers working on self-driving software after Project Titan shifted gears to prioritize automated driving software over vehicle development.

Photo: Apple CEO Tim Cook with Didi Chuxing’s president Jean Liu.

Source: Bloomberg