GM ventures into China car-sharing with investment in app developer

October 11, 2016 11:55 PM EDT

The GM logo is seen at the General Motors Warren Transmission Operations Plant in Warren, Michigan October 26, 2015. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

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By Jake Spring

BEIJING (Reuters) - U.S. automaker General Motors Co made its first investment in a Chinese car-sharing start up, the company said on Tuesday, as its attempt to reshape itself as a mobility solutions company spreads around the globe.

A GM spokeswoman declined to disclose the size of the investment in Yi Wei Xing (Beijing) Technology Co Ltd, which developed Feezu, a car rental and car-sharing app.

"This cooperation is very important to our company to explore ride-sharing market in China," the spokeswoman said in an email to Reuters. "It is GM's first investment in a start-up in China related to urban mobility."

GM is "looking at our footprint in China and opportunities there, and Yi Wei Xing is a step in that direction," said Vijay Iyer, GM spokesman for the Maven car-sharing service and based in Detroit, in a telephone interview on Wednesday. "How that will ultimately show itself in a service perspective is in the exploration phase.

"We are now purchasing technology in that market to be able to deliver ride-sharing experiences and we’ll take it from there," he said.

GM and other major global automakers have rushed to team up with technology companies as services like ride hailing and car sharing pose a threat to the traditional model of car ownership.

This year GM made a $500 million investment in U.S. ride-hailing company Lyft, while Japan's Toyota partnered with Uber [UBER.UL] and Germany's Volkswagen tied up with Israel-based car-hailing firm Gett.

Yi Wei Xing did not respond to requests for comment.

Feezu, whose Chinese name translates as "micro car rental," allows users to rent vehicles for as little as 10 minutes. The app differs from services like Uber and Lyft that primarily hail cars with drivers.

Iyer said it was premature to say whether GM's Maven car-sharing service would be involved with the Yi Wei Xing venture. Iyer said GM wanted to work with Yi Wei Xing in part because it has already created a presence in China, the world's biggest automobile market.

GM launched Maven in January in the United States.

(Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall in Detroit; Editing by Kim Coghill and Meredith Mazzilli)

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