Abhinav Gupta of Cars24: "“We will spend $50 million plus on the UAE operations, a lot of which will go towards building a fleet. We are buying from everyone – individuals, dealerships, fleets.” Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Abhinav Gupta doesn’t just want you just searching online for a used car. He wants to make sure the entire process – from first looking up a model that meets your choice to actually owning it –all gets done online.

This is what Gupta, Vice-President for International Operations at Cars24, wants to bring about in the UAE’s secondhand car transaction space. With his company – founded in India in 2015 - closing in on a near $2 billion valuation and talks about a possible IPO in the air, Gupta wants to use the UAE as the launchpad for a move into international markets.

The UAE operations is up and running, and so is the one in Australia – all within recent weeks and despite having a pandemic to deal with. Thailand is the next point of entry for Gupta and Cars24, and in each market his only goal is to take the whole of the buying and selling of pre-owned cars online.

Wait a minute – aren’t there already multiple online sites that do it? Gupta begs to differ, strongly, on that point.

“There are a lot of online used car marketplaces that have assisted selling services,” said Gupta, while talking to Gulf News after a splashy launch event in Dubai and making good use of the Burj Khalifa façade. “But these marketplaces don’t take the hassle of contacting sellers and finding a used car of the buyer’s choice.

“And whatever checks they do is at the point of transaction - nothing is guaranteed by them after the car is bought. The relationship with the buyer ends there. That’s not what we are about - we are owning the entire customer experience from end-to-end. Once the deal is done online, we will bring the car to your doorstep.”

Different markets, different roles
In India, Cars24 is more of a buyer of used cars, while in the UAE, the emphasis is on the selling side.

The investment firm DST Global is one of Cars24's biggest investors. "They had a large funding round last time also when we raised $300 million," said Abhinav Gupta. "We have always been profitable at the transaction level - but overall profitability we have not reached there yet."

DST Global has also been an early-stage investor in the likes of ride-hailing firm Ola and the food delivery aggregator Swiggy.

Online it is

In the UAE, online-led changes in the way cars are bought and sold is happening gradually. When it comes to new car buying, much of the actual transaction takes place at showrooms. This is also true of used cars as well. Gupta wants to speed up the change towards everything being passed onto the online platform.

“We refurbish the car and we offer guaranteed inspection reports from RTA (Road and Transport Authority),” he said. “Plus, there is a seven-day return policy once the car is bought and delivered - just like ordering a T-shirt from Amazon. We too offer 100 per cent money back in such cases.

“All sales are backed by a two- year warranty, which means the owner gets a full worry-free experience. This is the feedback we have had in the UAE prior to the launch and we co-opted all those findings into the operations.”

Cars24 - whose founders are Vikram Chopra, Mehul Agrawal, Ruchit Agarwal and Gajendra Jangid - became a 'unicorn' - with a $1 billion and over valuation - in November last year.

For Gupta, who oversees the international operations at Cars24, recent weeks have seen launches in Australia and with Thailand to follow. Image Credit: Supplied

Smooth start

It was in April that Cars24 started selling in the UAE, using the subsequent months to test out the strength of its business model and flatten out any chinks if any showed up. All of which then led to the actual launch late last month and culminating in the Burj Khalifa lighting up with the brand’s name. During this period, more than 500 cars were sold through the platform.

At any given time, Cars24 stocks between 500-1,000 that are directly owned by it. “We don’t want to be like those marketplaces that only list,” said Gupta. “What we do is similar to what any leading dealership in Dubai/UAE does – own the cars that we sell. We will bring the car to you for a test drive and, if you like, will sell it to you.

“We wanted to have those 500-700 cars to start with, today we are at about 1,000 cars. There needs to be a minimum assortment - any used car website that has limited number of choices will not attract anyone. Complete ownership of the fleet also means lesser costs for us.”

No to physical

As much as possible, Gupta does not want to be distracted with having to build a showroom for customers to get a feel of the vehicles Cars24 is selling. “The way we see it, 60-70 per cent of our customers are extremely happy with an online journey,” he added. “They want things at their doorstep. Yes, there is still that 30 per cent that want to come and see the car.

“For those who want to come, we may have to create an experience centre. But our push is to make it fully online, and have the delivery done right at your doorstep.

“We don’t have massive real estate spaces in the heart of the city to entertain customers. We have large parking hubs that double as fulfillment centres - owning more real estate doesn’t make sense.

"With online, we are covering the entire UAE market. And we want to seal the actual transaction online as well. That’s what we are trying to change."