FILE PHOTO: E-scooters are lined up during a presentation at the DESY campus in Hamburg, Germany, April 16, 2019. REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer/File Photo

STOCKHOLM – South Africa’s Naspers is further extending its global reach after securing 30 million euros ($34 million) in a fundraising effort led by itself and EQT, both existing investors in the European startup Dott, to launch an electric bike-hiring business and roll out new generations of its electric scooters.

E-scooters lined up during a presentation ain Hamburg, Germany, April 16, 2019. REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer/File Photo

Naspers, which describes itself as a global consumer internet group and one of the largest technology investors in the world, stormed onto the world stage after its investment in the Chinese internet giant Tencent Holdings Ltd.

Bloomberg reported last month that the market value of “Africa’s biggest listed company” had increased by five times in the past six years, largely due to growth in its 31% stake in Tencent to about $128 billion.

Europe’s Dott, Tier and VOI – like U.S. rivals Bird and Lime – have put thousands of electric scooters on the region’s roads, betting large commuter populations and lower car ownership than in the United States will make such transport a European staple.

The firms have raised thousands of dollars in the last year to fend off competition, with the sector attracting high-profile investors including Google-owner Alphabet and Uber, despite no clear route to profitability.

Dott, whose e-scooters operate in Brussels, Paris, Lyon and Milan, said on Thursday it would soon close a Series A funding round, which had also seen existing investors Axel Springer and Felix Capital make commitments. Naspers said in a statement that Dott would also launch in select cities in Germany, the UK, and the Netherlands in the coming months.

The money will be used to launch two new models of e-scooters with replaceable batteries – a move that should extend the life of the scooters – as well as launch e-bikes within the next few months, it added.

The move into bike sharing, with Dott’s rivals pursuing similar plans, comes after Asian bike operators GoBee and Mobike were forced to retreat from Europe due to price wars, vandalism and a backlash from authorities over regulations.

Critics warn e-scooter operators could face similar issues, with some cities having already pulled permits for some players over safety concerns heightened by several accidents and a handful of deaths.

Dott said it had struck partnerships that would allow it to become the first player to start offering insurance coverage to its users in France and Belgium for personal injury and third-party liability with automatic signup and at no extra cost.

Competition is driving players to find ways to distinguish themselves. Sweden’s VOI, which earlier this year raised $30 million and introduced a new generation of scooters with changeable batteries, is exploring tie-ups with delivery groups to boost use of its products.

(Reporting by Esha Vaish in Stockholm; Editing by Mark Potter, Reuters; Extra reporting and editing by Ted Botha, SAPeople)  

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