TWO FORMER Stanford Graduate School of Business classmates have launched a Web portal – CarParagon – to serve new-car buyers in Thailand in an online trading venture that they aim to expand regionally next year.
Varot Kamolchotiros, who is chief executive officer, and his South Korean friend Kyungmin Bang, the chief technical officer, are co-founders of Smoothlane Co, which operates the portal.
Stock Exchange of Thailand-listed AAPICO Hitech has a minority stake in the company.
“Motivated by the ‘Thailand 4.0’ policy in encouraging creativity and innovation through the application of technology, we developed this one-stop, free-of-charge new-car shopping portal to eradicate the usual hassle and time-consuming process of buying a car.
“In turn, we are also helping many authorised dealers in Thailand, which do not have the resources to build a comprehensive digital presence of their own, to further reach out to target customers who are savvy Internet users,” Varot said yesterday.
The website aims to benefit the new-car buyer, the dealer and the manufacturer by improving inefficiencies that currently exist between buyers and dealers, he said.
For instance, in the United Sates, it has been estimated that 25 per cent of the roughly 14 million new-car sales annually could be carried out via online channels, he said.
Someone wanting to buy a new car in Thailand would typically visit between three and five showrooms before deciding which vehicle to purchase, he said, adding that the portal could save buyers time, money and hassle by functioning as an “online multi-brand motor show, 24 hours a day”.
“Potential car buyers can not only find information on car pricing, specifications, promotional offers from major dealers and up-to-the-minute dealer inventory, but they can also request a test drive online with just a few clicks or speak to the dealer directly from their mobile phones via the CarParagon website,” the CEO explained.
Smoothlane’s 50 current dealer partners represent a wide range of popular auto brands, such as Toyota, Honda, Mazda, Ford, Volvo, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Mercedes-Benz and BMW.
The company aims to increase the number of dealer partners in Bangkok to 125 in the coming year, while expanding to join hands with dealers in the provinces in the next phase, Varot said.
Between 1,300 and 1,800 new cars are normally listed on the website, with dealers selling about 50 vehicles per month on average – at this stage, free of any service charge.
The website’s revenue is at the moment solely generated from car dealers through a combination of marketing performance and agreements, but the company expects to start charging a fee per sale from March next year, he said.
Based on the venture-backed, pre-revenue business model that is used successfully in the US and Europe, the CarParagon website is initially available to service those living in the greater Bangkok area, before expanding nationwide and throughout Southeast Asia.
Varot said the company would introduce the online service in Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines next year.
With Bt6 million of registered capital and Bt20 million budgeted for investment, Smoothlane is developing additional online features, such as a mobile application, advance booking for maintenance services and a financial-support solution in order to facilitate car buyers, he said.