SoftBank’s Vision Fund invests $1.5B in Chinese second-hand car startup Chehaoduo

SoftBank’s Vision Fund is taking a bet on China’s auto market after it agreed to pour $1.5 billion into online car trading group Chehaoduo, which literally means “many cars” in Chinese.

The Beijing-based company operates two main sites — peer-to-peer online marketplace Guazi for used vehicles, and Maodou, which retails new sedans through direct sales and financial leasing. (These sub-brands are more subtly named; they translate to “sunflower seeds” and “edamame,” respectively.)

Chehaoduo said it will deploy the proceeds on technology investments as well as the development of new products and services. It also plans to ramp up its marketing efforts and continue to open brick-and-mortar stores, an omnichannel move it believes can enhance trust in consumers used to meeting dealers in person and differentiate it from peers with an exclusively online focus. Chehaoduo currently runs 600 offline stores nationwide supporting new and used car dealing along with after-sales services.

The sizable funding round arrived at a time when China’s softening economy is sapping consumer confidence, but the company’s two-pronged strategy makes sure it covers a broad range of consumer demands. New passenger car sales in China — the world’s largest auto market — fell for the first time since the 1990s to 23.7 million units last year, according to a report by China’s Association of Automobile Manufacturers, the country’s top auto association.

On the other hand, used cars became a more economical choice in a consumer culture that, unlike many countries in the west, has been slow to embrace second-hand goods. But that mindset is shifting as people feel the heat of the Chinese economic downturn: Secondhand car sales were up 13 percent during the first 11 months of 2018, data from China’s Automobile Dealers Association show.

“China’s used car market is growing rapidly but online penetration remains low and auto financing is underutilized compared to developed markets. In just three years, Chehaoduo Group, through the Guazi brand, has leveraged the latest innovations in data-driven technology to establish China’s leading car trading platform,” says Eric Chen, partner at SoftBank’s Investment Advisers, in a statement.

The Japanese investment group has been a prolific backer in the mobility industry through a variety of affiliated companies with Vision Fund being one. SoftBank’s massive portfolio includes the likes of Uber, Didi Chuxing and Grab.

Chehaoduo counts Uxin and Renrenche as its most serious rivals. Uxin raised $225 million from a U.S. initial public offering last June while Renrenche lured Goldman Sachs in a $300 million funding round last year that also saw participation from Didi and Tencent.