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Didi has replaced the CEO of Brazilian ride-hail app 99 with one of its own top executives

Tony Qiu is stepping in for Peter Fernandez.

Ride-hail app Didi on a mobile phone
Didi has expanded into Mexico.

Just a few short months after Didi acquired Brazilian ride-hail app 99, the company has replaced 99’s CEO with one of its own top executives. A spokesperson confirmed the change but could not provide clarity on why.

Peter Fernandez, who first joined 99 as an adviser and then became the company’s chief product officer in 2016, is being replaced by Didi executive Tony Qiu. Qiu, who previously acted as a general manager at Didi, last managed the company’s premiere or luxury business.

This change comes as Didi officially launched its service in Mexico — the first market in which the company will be facing off against Uber in a ground war since China. The expansion into Mexico, while under the Didi brand, will largely be managed and operated by 99 operations, legal, support and product teams, as Recode first reported.

Mexico is the first international market Didi is operating in with its own cars and app so there is a lot riding on this expansion. Until now, Didi’s international strategy has largely been to invest in and work with local players in markets outside of China. But it appears the company has decided that competing in Latin America will require boots on the ground.

While it was not immediately clear what led to Fernandez’s replacement, it is clear Didi is pulling out all the stops as it prepares to go head-to-head with its former rival in a region that has become an Uber stronghold. Brazil and Mexico are two of the three biggest country markets for Uber and Latin America is its fastest-growing.

Didi has proven to be a formidable opponent for Uber in the past, but Uber has the first-mover advantage and a lot to lose in Latin America especially as it prepares to go public. Didi may also be thinking of going public as early as this year, according to the Wall Street Journal. (A Didi spokesperson declined to comment on the report.)

In other words, the stakes are high for this region and the battle will undoubtedly be hard-fought.

So leveraging local teams instead of trying to run its operations from China and putting one of their top men on the job are just two signs of how seriously Didi is taking its expansion into Latin America.

But already, Didi’s collaboration with 99 in Brazil got off to a rocky start. At the end of January, 99 introduced a new app that was built by more than 200 Didi and 99 engineers. Users, however, complained of a lack of accuracy in finding the passengers as well as the removal of pay options like in-app debit payments. The company told local publications at the time that it was working on a fix for all these issues.

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