Thailand's Central Group confirms US$200m investment in Grab's local unit

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BANGKOK (Jan 31): Thailand's Central Group, the country's largest retail conglomorate, confirmed on Thursday it will invest US$200 million in a local entity of Singapore-based ride-hailing application Grab.

Central Group, which owns department stores, restaurants, and hotel chains in Thailand, said in a statement it will "acquire a significant non-controlling stake" in the Thai entity.

Reuters first reported in September that the two companies were in talks over the sale.

The two companies will work together on transport, food and grocery delivery, and logistics, the retailer's executive chairman and chief executive, Tos Chirathivat, said.

"We look forward to collaborating together to revolutionise the retail and service industry," he said.

It is the first time a partner has invested in Grab's local business, Grab Chief Executive Anthony Tan told reporters at a news conference on Thursday.

"Central's US$200 million investment is a significant local joint venture," Tan said, adding that Grab's operation in Thailand will expand beyond ride-hailing and food delivery.

"We are moving forward with e-commerce and logistics...We are going to enter online travel, (with) Booking and Agoda."

Travel giant Booking invested US$200 million in Grab last year.

Tourism is a major contributor to Thailand's economy, which has lagged behind Southeast Asian peers.

Thailand saw a record 38.27 million tourists in 2018.

The deal came soon after Grab's Indonesian rival, Go-Jek, launched ride-hailing and food delivery operations in Thailand.

Central in 2017 launched a joint venture with China's second-largest e-commerce platform, JD.com, which backs Go-Jek.

Ride-sharing is not fully regulated in Thailand, with police occasionally fining drivers.

The market for ride-hailing services in Southeast Asia is expected to surge to almost US$30 billion by 2025 from US$7.7 billion in 2018, according to a Google-Temasek report.