In response to this news article: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/transport/tribecar-skids-as-rental-market-heats-up
Dear Members of Tribecar and Members of the Public,
2-3 Years ago we made the Home section of the Strait Times for launching a $2 car rental service in Singapore. Back then we had gone from just 10 cars to overseeing 350 cars (plus luxury cars, vans, lorries and even motorcycles now). I am happy to say that we have accomplished all these with NO external funding.
Imagine my surprise when we were featured today on Strait Times with the sensationalized headline “Tribecar skids as rental market heats up”. (What a terrible pun.)
Immediately, it must be said that the company is doing very well! The business is highly viable and very much sustainable (more on this at the end of the write-up).
We are in the midst of consulting our legal adviser on whether we can release the voice recording of my conversation with the reporter Mr. Christopher-Cherry-Picking-Tan (my words, not the company’s). We will let the public decide if what he wrote fully and accurately represented the situation at Tribecar and the call we had.
Nonetheless, I am sure you are curious about the source of this bad press. Well it came from a fan group dedicated to discussing about our company. A couple of members expressed their unhappiness there and we did a Q&A there yesterday to address those points. I thought the Q&A helped a lot in explaining what was happening (the same points were mentioned in the news article) to the members. I genuinely thought that the members felt better and accepted what we said.
Here are some of the most interesting points brought up which I have reproduced below.
Look, before you decide if the news is worth its salt, please know this – Paul and I are Engineers. We are naturally not good at PR. I can only hope by being fully transparent, you can sense our genuine sincerity in trying to do good by fellow Singaporeans and make transport more accessible to everyone.
****Transfer of Mazda 3 to Car Lite****
This was the most surprising of all concerns. We genuinely thought it was common knowledge that some of the cars in the Tribecar platform are owned by other car rental companies. The contract with CL Leasing had run its course and so they took things back. Now that they have the Car Lite platform, why wouldn’t they?
When LCR took back the Attrages (was it hundreds of cars? Not sure though), no one was shocked but when CL Leasing took back 5 cars commentators wrongly decided it was because we could not pay for repairs (and hence had to offload them in a firesale).
****Expiration of Road Tax****
Part of what Mr. Tan mentioned was true. We did miss out on ONE renewal because an admin staff mistakenly affixed Aug instead of Feb in the calendar. Not to worry still, unlike private cars, fleet cars have fleet insurance. What he said about having no insurance coverage is incorrect. Regardless of road tax status, there will be insurance coverage because the cars run on fleet insurance. This issue has since been resolved with the fleet owner.
Now, a word about the rest of the fleet- they subsist on GIRO renewal. If you happen to book the car on its road tax renewal date, there is a good chance that it says it hasn’t been renewed. That is just how it works. They deduct the payment via GIRO on the day itself and it thus takes a few days for things to reflect on LTA’s end. We have not been fined for such issues which arose; obviously this goes to show all is fine, there's no cause for concern. That being said, if any Tribecar members are still unsure, email us and we will do a double check.
Also, it seems to me that Mr. Tan didn’t understand that we are a Technology Platform. We never have to pay road tax, ever. Uber didn’t pay road tax, LCR on the other hand did.
****Alleged ‘corner-cutting’ in Maintenance****
Our priority has always been safety and mechanical soundness. This should not be a surprise to many. If you think about it, for economy cars, the focus should be on these factors rather than superficial aesthetics. Go for standard car models if you desire something nicer on the outside.
I think the mechanics should be lauded for some of the good work they have done. Some of the Toyota Wish cars have chalked up nearly 500,000 km on the odometer and they still run darn smoothly. They may look a little banged up on the exterior but everything on the inside is healthy.
We only use a mix of Original and OEM parts, NEVER ‘spare parts from scrapped taxis’ among other terrible things as implied by some commentators. Why would we be so foolish to even consider doing so? After all the cars are regularly inspected by LTA (trust me we are already on their radar), not to mention we maintain a highly visible presence locally. Honestly, these are dated mindsets of old tyrant bosses. We work with businesses that have been in the auto trade for 30 years and they themselves declare these to be bygone methods of yesteryears. It is just so much easier to pursue OEM components and fix things once and for all.
I forgot to mention this yesterday, I personally would like to thank the fan group. They helped bring some of the maintenance issues such as A/C, Wipers, etc, to our attention. It is very helpful for the operations staff!
****Customer Service is Slow****
Yes, that is true. We failed to anticipate the uptake of the service. We got lucky and attained pole position (alternating with Smove nowadays in terms of fleet size) in the car sharing industry within 3 years. Unlike other car-sharing companies, we have no external funding to help us bridge the gap between surge in customer demand and deliverance of quality service standards.
I am very sorry for this gap but I assure you that we are still trying our best.
Separately, I would like to take this public opportunity to thank the team. Everyone from operations to even engineering for stepping in to help with customer service related affairs. Things are certainly getting better with some days when we could issue instant replies, then again there are some horrible weeks with encountered massive backlogs. It ain’t pretty but we are trying.
As much as possible, we shall try to reward the ‘Pioneering’ members for their patience and loyalty. I can’t say when this will happen exactly......it could take months, perhaps even years but we will surely show our gratitude towards members who were with us through thick and thin.
****Buying New Cars is Bad?****
I shall end off with the most heart wrenching point for the Tribecar team.
COE prices reached a low recently, so we decided to refresh a significant part of our fleet with new cars. With these savings enjoyed, we managed to offer these brand new cars at Standard (Promo) rates which were approximately the same for outgoing Economy Cars.
Shiny new cars for everyone, isn’t that perfect? Guess again.
Some commentators are saying that we couldn't afford to repair 1-2 year old cars and were heartless enough to dump broken cars on some suckers. WE DO NOT, on both points.
From the very beginning, our goal was to make cars cheaper and more accessible to all Singaporeans. We do that by making traditional car rentals better, cheap and more convenient through car-sharing technologies.
We eagerly share this car-sharing technology with other car rental businesses. It is the co-founders’ belief that it is only through cooperation with other businesses that can we make a real and big enough difference to the lives of Singaporeans. We do this for free at times, knowing full well that we will lose customers. So pray tell how did it come to us being considered as heartless and absolutely capable of pushing vehicles in bad shape to unsuspecting souls? We feel really disheartened.
On the flip side, to those customers who have written in to express gratitude for the fleet renewal, know that your emails have warmed our hearts. Thank you! Your kind words give us strength to go the extra mile every day!
(My opinion herein) Mr. Tan’s point of “fleet has shrunk from 420 to 350 to take advantage of the low COE”appears to be worded in such a way to imply that I am deflecting the fact that our fleet has shrunk ‘perhaps due to the company’s inability to sustain a larger fleet size’. Just so we are clear, many older cars were traded in by fleet partners for new cars! You typically need about 3 trade-ins to make good the deposit for 1 new car, so such fleet shrinkage is not primarily due to company’s inability to sustain the larger fleet size.
****One last thing****
This point is my personal opinion and not representative of the company - I think Mr. Tan is wholly anti-small business and to an extent rigid in his thinking. Allow me to explain myself.
Back in 2016 we had an opportunity to launch a car-sharing service that would actually meet the needs of Singaporeans. The team had two choices – we could either raise funds, which we can easily do since we did raise more than a million USD previously for another business OR we could choose to keep our heads down and attempt to build the business in a traditional fashion: earn monies rental by rental and then reinvesting our profits.
Obviously by now, you can tell, we opted to do it by Paul’s father advice – be earnest and earn it dollar by dollar and only spend what you have in your piggy bank.
The team was very proud that despite spending almost THREE MILLION SGD in R&D, we always accrued a positive net profit (even if it is extremely small) year after year. The money was well spent on designing our own Tribecar hardware and software, as well as making processes efficient to minimize costs in various areas of the business. Add to that, our rental rates have remained at $2 an hour and we did not become one of those wannabe start-ups that bled hundreds of millions of dollars.
Again, just so we are very clear, since we run on our own revenues, your security deposits are therefore absolutely safe and unaffected.
And intuitively, as a start-up, profits are really a nice bonus, however they aren't a must. What really matters is we serve our customers well and constantly grow to meet their needs.
Given the manner in which Mr. Tan spun the story, it would appear that our small profit was a point of ridicule rather than a bright spot in the backdrop of reckless spending. I am surprised being a Singaporean, he isn’t more proud of what two Singaporeans that came from nothing has done and encourage our good financial practices. It is just our misfortune that we were chosen to be paraded by his words publicly for erroneous points that could have been easily fact checked.
I hope this gives the public a full inside view of Tribecar’s philosophies and operating processes. I apologise in advance if I came across too strongly but something had to be said about those half-truths. I also apologise again in advance to Tribecar members who strongly disagree with us regardless.
TLDR: Know that where we can, we try to do good so there is probably a decent reason for doing what we do. If we do not meet your expectations, feel free to write in. We really do read your feedback, even when they are laced with vulgarities.
Adrian Lee | Paul Tan