Uber to Launch Luxury Taxi App with KIA in South Korea

Michael Song, Nov. 11, 2015, 10:14 a.m.

Uber, the controversial ride-booking mobile app, will make a fresh start in Seoul with its high-end version to be serviced on a popular Korean-made luxury sedan, its U.S. operator said Wednesday, seeking to set foot here for the second time after the business hit a snag due to opposition from the local industry.

Uber Technologies Inc. plans to relaunch UberBlack, the premium riding service, in South Korea by the end of the year, provided on the K9 model sold by the country's No. 2 carmaker Kia Motors Corp., the company said in a statement.

Uber and Kia have clinched a partnership deal to roll out the revamped on-demand platform, the companies said, which comes after the government's amendment on transport regulations in July that eased the entry barrier for high-end taxi services.

UberBlack drivers will be able to purchase a K9 at a special rate, as the service aims to boost the local transport industry, as well as offer the best service to consumers within the confines of local rules, Uber said.

The move is seen as a big compromise for the U.S. app creator, estimated to be worth US$50 billion that currently operates in over 50 countries worldwide, after its initial attempt to make a footing in Korea went south as it faced strong opposition from the local taxi industry.

Since its Seoul launch in 2013, Uber has been under intense public scrutiny as critics accused it of hurting the local business, with the government also disapproving the service. The hostility has led the prosecution to indict Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and the head of Uber Korea on charges of violating transportation law, with the verdict yet to be delivered.

Its decision to resume part of its service through a tie-up with a Korean firm is expected to spur a fresh competition for the U.S. company versus Kakao Corp., South Korea's top mobile platform operator, which just kicked off a similar premium cab-hailing app, KakaoTaxi Black, this month. Uber said the existing UberBlack will stop operating starting next week in preparation for the relaunch, while the UberTaxi, its cheaper version, will continue business as usual. Uber runs the two services only in South Korea, which are provided by licensed drivers. It suspended its ride-sharing mobile platform, UberX, in March, as it was regarded as an illegal service.

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