By Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat
Just like anything else, car-buying has not been spared from the encroachment of Internet. Seeing the potential in some of the Asian countries, particularly ASEAN markets, a Berlin-headquartered group called Rocket Internet-powered a car-buying digital platform – Carmudi – to give customers options to several cars at their perusal.
From the initial platform for used cars, Carmudi now offers a section of brand-new models with the enlistment of most distributors and dealers of all the car brands available in the country. Not just that, Carmudi now offers a comprehensive client assist to facilitate the purchase in a safe and secure manner.
Juan Gregorio “Cholo” Syquia, the first Filipino managing director of Carmudi Philippines, has emphasized the company’s efforts to make clients their topmost priority. With that Carmudi Philippines ensures they only provide the best service so clients can find their dream vehicle online.
According to Cholo, the Philippine unit has grown double-digit in 2017 over 2016 because of lots of transition happening and product offering, pushing sales even higher.
For instance, because of the huge demand for cars, Carmudi now covers brand-new cars for all brands.
With strong growth in the domestic car industry, it was but a good move for the company to include brand-new cars in their platform. Domestic vehicle sales grew about 20 percent reaching over 500,000 in 2017 versus 2016.
Carmudi has vowed to further intensify its brand-new car section this year with more promotions and features with partner dealers and distributors.
At present, Carmudi Philippines has over 30,000-unit inventories of used cars listed in their platform.
Cholo, however, said, they have no exact number of inventories of the brand-new cars listed on their platform, but suffice it to say that all brands carried by their distributors and dealers are listed in Carmudi already.
Cholo also expects to maintain last year’s growth into this year because their partnerships with dealers are gaining more traction.
According to Cholo, growth this year would be triggered by higher traffic of users and availability of more vehicles.
Demand for both brand new and used cars are also at parity because there is growth in new cars, but for people who cannot afford the brand new, they go for used cars and that is also growing.
In fact, Carmudi has focused on three markets in Asia – Philippines, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka because these are emerging markets.
“Sellers feel the need to have presence in Carmudi and on the ground to get a better foothold of demand as they see more traffic going into our platform,” he adds. Carmudi gets at least a million visits every day.
Another growth driver would be a more active motorcycle section given the strong demand. Motorcycles are now recognized as new alternative mobility given the traffic in the metropolis and as an entirely new mobility for Filipinos.
The only problem in capturing the motorcycle market is that there are lots of offline transactions. So far, only 20 percent of the total motorcycles market is listed in Carmudi. There are an estimated 8 million registered motorcycles in the country.
True to its record as the world’s preferred outsourcing hub, the Philippines is now Carmudi’s IT development hub for their global operations.
As such, Cholo said its IT development division has already been beefed up to 20 people to respond to is mandate.
Now, Carmudi Philippines has a total of 84 workers. Cholo plans to hire more manpower complement to reach 100 by the second quarter this year.
According to Cholo, they are hiring new graduates and some senior for their IT division. Other workers will be needed for their back-end support and business development.
This has been a journey from when they started in December, 2013.
“The IT development has been outsourced in the Philippines. Before, coding was done in Berlin but now in the Philippines and which we share our software globally,” says Cholo of the company that is powered by Rocket Internet, which has investments in a string of successful tech startups.
The leading automotive portal in Asia has also announced $10 million in new funding round last December to grow the Philippines, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka markets.
For the Philippines, Cholo said this means “time to really localize and address the local market.”
With the new funding, Cholo sees more IT developments going to the local unit, bridging IT gaps for a stronger IT infrastructure across its international operations.
“That’s why we’ve been known as mavericks in Carmudi because we have novel ideas. We are like the baby because our novel ideas and concepts can push demand in the market and other Carmudi units are now using our software and assisted by our agents,” says Cholo.
There are many reasons for a car seller to get onboard in the Carmudi bandwagon.
Foremost, the Philippines’ number 1 vehicle marketplace has over 30,000 vehicles listed online as of November, 2017. Most of the country’s dealers and distributors of all car brands are already listed in Carmudi. On top of this, it has more than 4,000 private sellers. It also boasts of more than 1.6 million Facebook fan base.
With this technology-packed marketplace, vehicle seekers can easily browse through the listed vehicles. Buyers can easily filter their options and find the vehicles they are looking for. Once a vehicle interests a buyer, the seeker can contact the respective offers directly through the platform.
“We are connecting buyers and sellers in the easiest fashion,” says Cholo.
Individual vehicle owners can list their vehicles on the platform. Professional sellers can list their vehicles through the platform and receive professional support on how to present themselves and their offerings.
With unlimited listings, there no need to select which of your cars you should advertise online. Just post all of your cars on Carmudi site at the same time, and start receiving leads for all of them.
The latest study conducted by Mackenzie in 2016 showed that 90 percent of car buyers at one point go to an online site first before the actual purchase. In the Philippines, Carmudi has the most comprehensive online car selling/buying platform.
The study also showed that 60 percent of buyers go online first before they purchase because they want to be educated first about the vehicle.
“This saves time on the part of the buyer than going to different car showrooms,” he adds. But other countries in Latin America prefer to go directly to the showrooms.
“Customer service is the key,” says Cholo on Carmudi’s success in penetrating the country’s car market.
Cholo made a vow of excellent service where a seeker can expect a reply within the day.
“We readily forward leads to dealers because part of our service is to make sure that when there are inquiries or calls they get assisted not just on actual car unit but also we provide information about loans,” he adds.
Their technology plays a critical role in making it easier for buyers to navigate as they browse the site. Other similar sites cannot provide the same day response even if they are online.
“One of our advantages is that while we have the platform we make sure there are people behind the platform, so we have real-time response,” adds Cholo, a consistent Dean’s Lister at De La Salle University-College of Saint Benilde where he finished business administration major in human resources management.
Carmudi also introduced a Car Buying Concierge, which is the first in the industry.
“We assist them to a certain extent, for brand new we go to as far as sending the actual form that they have to fill out and endorse online. But because affixing signature needs physical presence, they have to come to the bank but we are doing everything back end so when they visit our partner, it is just a matter of closing the deal,” Cholo adds.
Its software assists all partners in monitoring inquiries, what stage of the transaction, how to improve customer handling and invites partners to exclusive events.
“There are lots of good technologies, but no service. Service is practically putting the technology into good use,” says Cholo.
Individual listings for used cars are for free, but for special campaigns and promos for dealers they have to pay premium.
According to Cholo, more than 300 cars are listed in a day, but 200 are rejected because they do not meet the standards.
There have been scammers who attempted at listing in their platform, thus their QA (quality assurance) does not allow automatic listing.
Cholo said that since buyers, whether for used or brand-new value quality, this means their products should be able to reflect that, too.
Ensuring that cars sold on Carmudi are safe is also one of the services the company provides. They double check on the contact numbers to validate the seller. They can also schedule a mechanic to check on the units.
The inspected models will be updated in the listing with an “Inspected” badge.
“We don’t certify that the vehicle is on tip top condition but we will show the actual condition of the vehicle,” Cholo clarifies.
They don’t place an age cap of the vehicle, as long as they are rightfully represented, because there are car enthusiasts who love vintage cars.
Part of their promotion is giving dealerships with a fresh look and professional feel. Dealerships can get customize shirts, banners and flyers to showcase at their showroom to lend a more inviting space for buyers.
With higher excise tax on most vehicle models, Cholo expects a shift in car buying, possibly to used cars.
What is certain, he said, is there is always demand because the domestic economy is growing. The tax exemption could translate to higher take home pay freeing up capacity among people to buy new things.
“It will balance out as consumer will get informed choices. The mentality is that if they see money coming into their payroll, they will start planning of investing,” he adds.
On their part, Carmudi has to create a lot of campaigns to address information dissemination.
Carmudi is not all about selling cars, but it is also about teaching consumers’ road safety and road ethics since there is no school curriculum that incorporates these things, except when one applies for driver’s license. The Carmudi Academy on road safety has tied up with motoring organizations and local government units to conduct free seminars in schools.
“We want to cover as much ground, so we might also go to the provinces,” he adds citing Davao as one place with lots of potential. They already have a strong presence in Cebu with 4 people there, covering as much as 95 percent of brands in this city.
Cholo, who migrated and worked in the US for four years, said he did not regret his decision to come back although he still goes to the US to visit his mom, friends, and relatives.
“I am very happy in the Philippines,” says Cholo stressing it is more fulfilling to work for a start-up company because one sees the growth from the very beginning.
“The impact is very visible immediately, so it is very exciting and the industry itself is growing very fast,” he says noting that what other industries can do in six months, they were able to accomplish in one quarter.
“We have to be very agile in addressing clients, we work long hours but very exciting long hours,” adds Cholo citing the improvement in Internet connection overtime.
“It has been a very fulfilling job. It is not just the actual selling, but we’re happy that we get lots of feedback from people who appreciate how we assist them on the ground,” he adds.
He did not dream to become the managing director (MD) though, much more to become the first Filipino leader of a foreign company, but everything leads to this post. He was prepared for this eventuality.
“It is very exciting because the management and the investor group are global, but they can now trust Filipinos because we’ve earned that overtime,” adds Cholo adding that other Carmudi units in Asia are still being run by expats.
He noted that a local leader could be more effective because even the relationship with partners is different when they are talking to a local leader.
Even at his age, he can be very stringent as he is target driven. He hopes the local unit to attain self-sufficiency by end of the year.
Cholo even cited his team as a melting pot for its diversity. It has senior and very young workers just delivering their own tasks.
Cholo actually migrated to the US and worked with American firms, but called it quits and returned to the Philippines as the patriotism in him believes he can make a difference in his homeland.
Upon his homecoming, Cholo was employed at Carmudi in 2013 as the third leg among three pioneers, two of whom were expats.
“We were working in our sort of picnic table, just the three of us back then, until we moved to our new office as we grow to almost a 100,” says Cholo, who loves diving on his spare time.
He rose from the ranks and in a matter of four years became the first local guy to be appointed as MD of this German-founded technology-driven company.
A millennial, who belongs to the older batch, Cholo hates the wild exuberance of this generation in doing flashy presentations or paper works that look good only on paper, but difficult to implement.
To him, a good business study is something what a market is all about, its requirements and needs.
He looks up to Manuel V. Pangilinan for his multiple enterprises. He admires Jack Ma and Mark Zuckerberg for engaging in relevant businesses.
Becoming an MD of a foreign company has been challenging, but having risen from the ranks has prepared him for the job.