Uber Technologies tripled the number of car journeys ordered using its ride-hailing app in Latin America during the first four months of this year, making it the company's fastest-growing region.
The convergence of widespread smartphone usage and insufficient public transport have spurred rising demand from Mexico to Argentina, with profits from the former country helping to fund its expansion, Uber's Regional General Manager for Latin America Rodrigo Arevalo said.
Brazil is set to take Mexico's crown as the No. 1 user of Uber in Latin America this year, as Brazilian drivers look to supplement their income amid the country's worst recession in a century, he said. Uber plans to roll out its new UberPool car-sharing service in Rio de Janeiro ahead of the Olympic Games there in August, and sees huge potential for further growth in the region of roughly 600 million people.
"We're still only at the tip of the iceberg," Arevalo said in an interview in Cartagena, Colombia, last week.
"There's still lots to do in terms of access, so that we become available to the whole population and become part of the solution to road congestion."
Four of the 10 most congested cities in 2015 were in Latin America, according to a global index compiled by the Amsterdam-based satellite-navigation provider TomTom NV. Mexico City tops the list, which includes the Brazilian cities of Rio de Janeiro, Salvador and Recife.
Mexico City is where Uber made its first journey in Latin America, on July 1, 2013. Today the company is on the road in 45 cities throughout 10 countries in the region, racking up more than 2 million users a week.
Like in Bogota and other cities across the region, Uber's arrival in Buenos Aires seven weeks ago was greeted by protesting taxi drivers and blocked roads. At the same time, sign-ups both by users and drivers in the Argentine capital have been faster than anywhere else in Latin America, Arevalo said.
San Francisco-based Uber has pledged to spend $1 billion in China, where it faces strong competition from domestic rival Didi Chuxing. Uber has said it's able to support its push in the country because it makes $1 billion annual profit from its 30 largest global markets. Latin America is part of the solution, Arevalo said.
"Today we are close to breaking even in the region," he said. "If Latin America can generate profits and sustain its accelerated growth in a profitable manner, these profits will be invested in our more aggressive businesses where we're betting in such a big way, like China."
If Latin America can generate profits and sustain its accelerated growth in a profitable manner, these profits will be invested in our more aggressive businesses where we're betting in such a big way, like China.
Toyota announced plans earlier this month to invest in Uber, following investments by Volkswagen and General Motors in competitors Gett and Lyft, respectively. Other investors may have to wait until an Uber IPO, with much speculation surrounding a potential date.
"I wouldn't say we have plans in the near future for a initial public offering," Arevalo said, stressing the decision will be taken by co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick and the board.
Uber's next destination in the region will be Puerto Rico, Arevalo said. The company also is targeting Venezuela, although political and economic hurdles mean arrival there in the short-term is unlikely.
"It's an immense opportunity," Arevalo said. "The digital gap, security and economic situations don't make it easy for us to understand the Venezuelan market. We're trying. Our aim it to be everywhere, and at some point we'll get there. "