I’ll be honest with you, I don’t really drive that much. I haven’t actually sat behind a wheel of a car in about a year and I don’t have plans to do so any time soon. Nothing against cars, but with Grab, GoJek and the terrible traffic around here, I don’t need that hassle in my life

So, I might have a very small part to play in the struggles of the automotive industry since the COVID-19 pandemic. There is also a growing semiconductor shortage, which has impacted vehicle sales globally as well as production. However, there’s always opportunity during situations like this and Carro, Southeast Asia’s largest used car marketplace seems poised to benefit greatly from these issues in the industry.

The startup has just reached the coveted ‘unicorn’ status after their latest fundraising round and reported an increased sale for its last quarter with over a 2.5 times growth.

We speak to newly minted unicorn founder Jeffrey Tiong about PatSnap’s journey

To find out their journey, we spoke to Ernest Chew, who seems to have the most titles within the company, being the Executive Vice President and Managing Director, Chief Financial Officer at Carro. He was kind enough to share his insights into the growth of the company and how they plan to move ahead during these times.

Team Photo Carro
The Carro leadership team. Image courtesy of Carro

How will you be using the investment? What’s next for Carro?

The new investment would be used to strengthen our market positions and expand products and services across Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand – markets that we’ve seen significant growth in the past year.

Carro aims to push the boundaries of technology to provide a superior customer experience powered by AI. We will continue to develop our pricing algorithms, defect detection, instant credit, amongst others by leveraging big data, data science, machine learning and AI capabilities to digitise Southeast Asia’s automotive industry. 

In addition, we will continuously enhance our AI capabilities around financial services and integrating ancillary services closer to our marketplace businesses to improve the seamless digital purchasing and ownership journey.

Could you share a bit more about the Carro journey – what were some of the pivotal milestones that you experienced on your journey to a unicorn?

Exploring novel ideas and being adventurous has helped us in at every step of the journey. It has allowed us to grow quickly and reflect on current processes and offerings to see what we can turn into opportunities.

The pandemic has encouraged us to focus on digitalisation. Being a technology-first company, we saw this as an opportunity to leverage technology to meet the challenges posed by the pandemic, especially when it comes to contactless, digital and tech-enabled solutions. 

In the last few years, we launched many technological innovations to respond to that shift, including a fully contactless car purchasing process, the first car-subscription program or “Netflix for Cars” and an AI-based auto insurance plan that calculates premiums according to the driver’s behaviour and distance travelled.

We have also significantly enhanced our AI capabilities to support automated credit scoring, instant approval and loan monitoring systems as well as deeper integration with our marketplace businesses. As a result, we were able to maintain an enviable industry leading NPL during the pandemic, even lower than many banks.

Together, this has enabled us to successfully hit USD1bn in annualised GMV run rate, achieving record volumes, revenues, GP and EBITDA. 

All these combined enabled us to raise significantly more capital (across equity and debt) to reach unicorn status – a pivotal milestone – a real validation to everyone’s hard work in executing our growth strategy, whilst improving profitability over the past 2 years. 

Could you shed some light on how you were able to boost growth during a time in which transport has been severely impacted?

The pandemic has reminded us to remain agile and resilient amidst the ever-changing business landscape. We managed to boost our growth during the pandemic as we capitalise and accelerated shift towards e-commerce by significantly improving the entire online buying and selling experience. Putting on our technology hat, we work tirelessly to improve and push out innovations to support the purchasing and ownership ecosystem.

Equipped with the knowledge that car purchasing is a difficult process for customers, Carro launched the region’s first car subscription program to meet the increased demand for more flexibility in car ownership. The program offers flexibility to customers where they can select their desired subscription plan on a flat fee and drive off with their desired car without the hassle of traditional car ownership. 

To complement our subscription program, in June 2020, we launched the region’s first contactless purchasing service, where buyers can browse and shop for pre-owned cars on Carro’s website, with independent test drives and policy returns in place to ensure maximum satisfaction.  

We have also made financing seamless and pain-free, by enabling an online submission and approval application entirely online.

We also collaborated with NTUC Income and Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Group (MSIG) on the insurance services side. For instance, we launched the region’s first-ever behaviour and usage-based car insurance (UBI) with MSIG to provide customers with tailored insurance policies and pricing that reflect their actual driving behaviour. More recently, we launched Singapore’s first artificial intelligence (AI)-driven pay-per-kilometre insurance and maintenance plan, Covered, covering all types of cars including Electric Vehicles. Distributed by Genie Financial Services and underwritten by NTUC Income, Covered allows drivers to tailor insurance premiums and maintenance coverage according to their lifestyles to enjoy increased savings, better convenience and more transparency.

Are you seeing growth from particular markets in Southeast Asia? Which ones and why?

Carro has received tremendous response in all our markets, and we have recorded significant growth across Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia – which covers over 70 per cent of our revenues. 

We are turbo-charging our online retail business, which is growing by leaps and bounds, and breaking monthly record highs. For instance, our July 2021 retail revenues were over 40x our June 2020 retail revenues just when we emerged from the various lockdowns. 

The used-car market seems to be a big target of yours. Could you share why and how you plan to push into this fragment sub-industry?

It is important to note that the addressable market for the used-car ecosystem is huge and we are not creating new markets. The industry is highly fragmented and there are many pain points for both consumers and dealers. It is ripe for disruption, and we believe we are in the driver-seat of change. We are making it better by solving these through constant innovation and tech-enabling a lot of the processes.  

We provide customers with an AI-driven car buying experience and we’re uniquely positioned to deliver this. For consumers shopping for the next car, we provide maximum transparency, peace of mind and hassle-free experience, bringing the virtual showroom to their fingertips on a screen at the comfort of their home, anytime of the day or week. 

We provide an end-to-end digital and highly differentiated experience across financing, insurance and even aftersales throughout the consumers ownership lifecycle – improving customer “stickiness” and loyalty.

The end goal is to achieve top of mind brand awareness, by being hungry and passionate to deliver exceptional and delightful customer experience – which every consumer should rightly deserve.