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Business trends

Myanmar's first auto auction helps polish used-car market

Startup Rebbiz makes sellers disclose inspection results before listing vehicles

Participants view vehicle information on a screen at Myanmar's first auto auction in March.

YANGON -- Myanmar's leading used-car website has teamed with a Japanese trading company to hold the country's first auto auction featuring fully inspected vehicles.

Rebbiz, operator of CarsDB.com, Myanmar's largest online used-car marketplace, and Japan's Toyota Tsusho expected the two-day auction in March to help improve Myanmar's dodgy used-car market, where around 100,000 vehicles are sold each year -- five times more than new cars.

Caveat emptor is an apt warning when buying a used car in Myanmar, which teems with poorly maintained vehicles up for sale. Rebbiz aims to transform this image by requiring that vehicles it lists be thoroughly inspected, with the results made available to prospective buyers.

The auction took place in a tent erected specifically for the event in Yangon, the country's largest city. A large screen above the stage displayed details of the vehicles and the status of bidding, which was limited to three minutes per vehicle.

Most of the bidders at the auction were used-car dealers, but the general public was also invited. In addition to pre-owned vehicles, new cars from dealers' excess inventories were also auctioned.

Asian auto auctions are gradually becoming more high tech, with bids now accepted online in some countries. Rebbiz's auction reflected this trend, as it invited people to submit bids using smartphones. The event was also streamed live over Facebook.

Rebbiz's website showcases about 10,000 cars and draws 200,000 people each month. In the past, secondhand auto dealers only connected buyers with sellers, who often misrepresented the condition of cars. Now, thanks to the tie-up with Toyota Tsusho, sellers must fill in a 200-item inspection sheet that covers everything from scratches and nicks to dents and engine details.

The Japanese company also trains local staff on how to run auctions.

"In other countries, car auctions are very popular," said Rebbiz CEO Wai Yan Lin. "We are going to make a similar system to improve Myanmar's auto market and I think this auction will help."

But despite its groundbreaking efforts, Rebbiz still has a way to go: Of the 214 vehicles that went on the block, only 20 were sold over the two days. Both organizers and participants seemed unfamiliar with the art of the auction deal. For example, some cars went unsold due to minimum bids being set too high.

"We hope to tackle these issues in the next [auction] round," said Toyota Tsusho's Daiki Kato.

Rebbiz CEO Wai Yan Lin, left, and Daiki Kato of Toyota Tsusho, right, at a March news conference announcing the auction in Yangon

Toyota Tsusho is already familiar with the Southeast Asian market, having a stake in an auction affiliate of Indonesian conglomerate Astra International, through which it handles about 60,000 used vehicles a year.

People in Myanmar are driving in record numbers since the return to civilian rule in 2011, when those outside the ruling elite were allowed to import cars. According to the country's Central Statistical Organization, the number of registered cars nearly doubled to 530,000 in fiscal 2017 from 260,000 in fiscal 2010.

Sales of new cars have been growing, but most vehicles traded in Myanmar are believed to be secondhand. Although there are no official statistics, an industry insider said the number of used-car deals may be four to five times greater than new car sales.

Rebbiz and Toyota Tsusho say that proper disclosure of vehicle information will be one of the keys to improving the used-car market. They also feel the rigorous inspection system will help reduce traffic accidents, which have risen due to poor vehicle maintenance and inadequate traffic laws.

According to a World Health Organization report, Myanmar police statistics show the number of traffic-related deaths jumped 150% in 2016 to 4,688 compared with 2008 fatalities. The actual number could be more than twice this as many accidents go unreported.

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