Uber Technologies Inc. has pulled back from several emerging markets but it is determined to hold on in two of the world’s most populous: India and Brazil.
In both, Uber has its hands full. But the potential is enormous for any company that comes to dominate.
On Monday, Uber said it would relinquish its Southeast Asia business to Grab Inc. in exchange for a 27.5% stake in the Singapore-based company, so it could turn its attention elsewhere.
In India, home to 1.3 billion people, the San Francisco startup is battling local champion ANI Technologies Inc.’s Ola. In Brazil, home to more than 200 million people, it is squaring off against ride-hailing service 99.
The battle lines are tangled. In India, both sides have a common backer in Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp. , which owns about 30% of Ola and has a board seat, and owns about 15% of Uber.
In Brazil, 99 is partly owned by China’s Didi, in which Uber has had a 20% stake since giving up its own China effort in 2016. After investing an undisclosed amount in 99 last year, Didi said in January said it would buy the Brazilian company; a person familiar with the matter said it was paying about $600 million for a majority stake.
Last year Uber relented in Russia, forming a joint venture with Yandex , parent company of its rival Yandex.Taxi, in exchange for a stake of nearly 37%. But after Monday’s Grab announcement, Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi rejected speculation that it might seek a similar solution in India or Brazil.
“It is fair to ask whether consolidation is now the strategy of the day, given this is the third deal of its kind, from China to Russia and now Southeast Asia,” he wrote in a blog post about the Grab deal Monday. “The answer is no.”
“This is the final minority stake” Uber’s going to do “anywhere in the world,” said a person familiar with the company’s thinking. “In Latin America and India we’re not ceding.”
Spokesmen for SoftBank and Ola declined to comment.
In India Ola operates in more than 110 cities, compared with Uber’s roughly 30. Uber has been investing heavily there in recent years, but Ola says as a local company it has a better feel for what consumers want. It is focusing on expanding options such as auto rickshaws on its platform. On its side, Uber this month named Indian cricket-team captain—and household name— Virat Kohli as its first spokesman in India.
Ola also recently began operating in Australia, opening a new front against Uber.
Uber dominates in Brazil, people familiar with the market say, though it has clashed with regulators who have explored increasing oversight on the industry.
Uber has significant operations in cities such as São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, which are among the top metropolitan areas globally in use of the ride-hailing app, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Uber’s sale of its operations in Southeast Asia clears one challenge for Mr. Khosrowshahi as he considers an IPO next year. The company will still have to shore up its balance sheet after losing $4.46 billion last year on sales of $7.36 billion.
It also faces renewed competition at home from rival Lyft Inc., which recently raised $1. 7 billion from investors, picked up market share in some key markets and expanded into its first Canadian city.
Mr. Khosrowshahi is also facing the first major crisis under his watch after an Uber self-driving vehicle struck and killed a woman in Arizona last week. Experts have questioned the safety of the autonomous cars, which Uber has spent billions developing.
—Greg Bensinger and Mayumi Negishi contributed to this article.