Expansion in Myanmar

Car buyer preferences in Myanmar are changing on the back of new policies, rising incomes. Aung Htay Hlaing/The Myanmar Times

Ko Wai Phyo Kyaw, COO and co-founder of CarsDB, is seeing business take-off on the back of a recent change in the way consumers are buying cars in Myanmar. Now, the digital automobile classifieds site is ready to initiate new service offerings such as insurance and financing to expand further.

With the recent policy shift away from importing right-hand-drive vehicles, buyers have begun exploring car options in the left-hand-drive segment of the market. “And thanks to the introduction of competitive financing options, we are also seeing more brand new vehicles being sold,” Ko Wai Phyo Kyaw told The Myanmar Times.

Those changes in demand also come at a time when the number of Internet users in Myanmar has surged, backed by faster connections and cheaper access to SIM cards and mobile phones.

The new environment is the perfect set-up for CarsDB, which is Myanmar’s first and largest digital automobile classifieds site.

“We have more than 300,000 unique users every month and more than 2,000 valued car dealer partners across Myanmar,” said Ko Wai Phyo Kyaw. The site claims also to have at least 7,000 new cars being listed for sale on its platform every month, or around 84,000 a year.

Now, CarsDB is on the lookout for investors to help it take its services to the next level. It has already begun providing automobile insurance premiums on its site, which will soon include options for buyers to better finance their vehicle purchases. It has also diversified into advertising and events management.

“We will be keen and happy to speak to investors who share our long term vision. As a small growing company with limited profitability, we are not able to borrow from the banks yet,” said Ko Wai Phyo Kyaw.

“Our goal is to become the no.1 go-to website for car enthusiasts and buyers. We want to strengthen our position as the leading platform by further enhancing our product offerings and adopting new technology,” he added.


Facebook focus

CarsDB was founded by Ko Wai Phyo Kyaw and two other partners in 2012 with seed funding from several investors in Singapore. It was also the year the Myanmar government drastically reduced import duties on vehicles.

Things were not smooth sailing though, since car buyers at the time still looked for car advertisements in the newspaper or at the local dealers. In its first year of business, CarsDB saw less than 10,000 used cars listed for sale on its website.

Meanwhile, competition from other classified sites was cutthroat. “Some of our competitors had really deep pocket with billions of dollars worth of resources. In order to compete with them, we started looking for external investors in 2012.

“But such years were really risky for many foreign investors to come in and invest,” said Ko Wai Phyo Kyaw.

Things picked up in 2014, when the firm received an infusion of funds from Malaysia’s Frontier Digital Ventures.

Yet, that also clashed with the take-off of Facebook, which drew most of the country’s car listings onto its site.

“It is undeniable that Facebook groups are easier to use for listing and trading cars due to Myanmar’s unprecedented familiarity with this social network,” said Ko Wai Phyo Kyaw.

He added though, that consumers have been getting savvier and are now trading cars on a new level. “While there are a large number of users in Facebook groups, CarsDB is solely used by only car enthusiasts and serious traders. We have passed that stage of being just a simple classified portal.”

Changing trends

These days, consumer preferences have changed with rising incomes and the new regulations in place. “People are now buying all types of cars from small city cars to SUVs and MPVs. There is also a large group of consumers moving to buy brand new vehicles made from the US and Europe as well,” said Ko Wai Phyo Kyaw.

This is a break away from the past, when Japanese car manufacturers, in particular Toyota, dominated the market. That is all driving traffic to CarsDB, which not only functions as a trusted site for trade, but carries all the necessary information and reviews buyers value when deciding on a new car purchase.

Still, some have said vehicles listed on CarsDB carry higher prices compared to Facebook and other sites. “We hear that a lot. But we have done our own research and found that when consumers choose to advertise their car for sale not just on CarsDB but also on Facebook or anywhere else, they usually mark up the price by around K5 lakh to K10 lakh to create room for negotiation when the actual buyers come,” said Ko Wai Phyo Kyaw.

In fact, “CarsDB does not set the selling price. It is the users’ sole discretion to set the prices at which they want to sell their vehicles. We are just a facilitator of the car market,” he added.

If the firm receives a further injection of funds to carry out its growth plans though, that role may quickly expand to meet rising demand. – Myanmar Times