Japan's SoftBank is said to have begun talks with Uber about taking a multi-billion-dollar stake in the ride-hailing business, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal (subscription required).
Talks are at a very early stage, according to the WSJ, which cites sources close to the matter, and a deal is unlikely to happen before Uber appoints a new chief executive in the coming weeks, the report says.
Former CEO Travis Kalanick quit in June under pressure from investors and amid growing concern that allegations of sexual harassment within the company were ignored at the top level. (See Kalanick Steps Down as Uber CEO.)
Under Kalanick's leadership, Uber had also been accused of stealing trade secrets from Google's Waymo self-driving car project and of developing software that allowed it to avoid scrutiny by transportation officials.
One of Japan's biggest telecom operators, SoftBank Corp. has diversified through investments in a range of other technology companies and also controls Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S), the fourth-biggest mobile operator in the US.
In Asia, it has already made investments in several Uber-like companies, including Grab (Singapore), Ola (India) and Didi Chuxing Tehchology (China), according to the WSJ report.
Indeed, the WSJ report appeared after Grab was said to have raised about $2 billion in funding from SoftBank and Didi Chuxing. According to a report from Bloomberg, the funding will help Grab to defend itself against Uber in Southeast Asia. While Grab currently dominates that market, Uber has been trying to expand into the region after experiencing setbacks in other parts of the world.
Several analysts reckon the funding that SoftBank and others have provided to ride-hailing companies in Asia could threaten Uber's ambition of becoming a global force.
Uber has quit China, selling its business there to Didi Chuxing, and earlier this month it merged its Russian business with that of local technology player Yandex, which is to control the new venture.
— Iain Morris, , News Editor, Light Reading