Car leasing firms still confident about demand despite easier loans

Singapore - THE loan curbs may have been relaxed but rental and leasing companies do not expect demand for new cars from them to drop much due to the high cost of vehicles and the general profile of their clientele.

In the past couple of years, some prospective car buyers who were priced out of the market have been renting or leasing while working part-time for ride-booking companies to help defray the charges.

AMV Singapore has been one of those benefiting from this trend. Managing director Vynn Tan was in the family business dealing in used cars but branched out into rentals about one-and-a-half years ago when Uber came to town.

The 10-15 customers he gets each month are mainly recommended by Uber, with most of them signing up for weekly rentals - usually of an older car aged about eight or nine years.

But one or two will ask for a brand new car under a leasing arrangement for a minimum of one year.

"AMV started offering new cars under our one or two-year lease programmes about six months ago when we noticed demand from our drivers," explains Mr Tan, who runs a fleet of more than 200 cars.

Before the vehicle financing registrations were eased last week, buying a new S$100,000 Japanese sedan from a car dealer would have required a cash downpayment of S$40,000 and over S$1,100 in monthly instalments for five years.

Today, the downpayment has dropped to S$30,000, with a roughly S$970 monthly instalment over seven years.

Mr Tan says: "For many, it's not a big jump; the loan amount is only 10 per cent more and you still have to pay over S$900 a month. So unless you can get a full 100 per cent loan, it is still not that easy to own a new car."

Neo Hong Wei, operational manager of HW Leasing, agrees.

"I don't think there will be much impact for us because of the cash downpayment," says Mr Neo, whose company taps Uber and Grab sideliners.

He explains that the profile of the rental or leasing customer is different from a "serious" buyer.

"Those who rent are not looking at long-term ownership because they don't want the financial commitment," he says.

As for those who lease, they are usually marginal owners because they don't have the "cash in hand" required for the 30 or 40 per cent downpayment.

On the other hand, leasing a brand new 1.6-litre Japanese sedan from HW Leasing is more affordable. A minimum S$2,000 cash downpayment is required for a two-year lease, with monthly payments starting from S$2,100.

But competition among leasing companies is keen, and getting keener. AMV's Mr Tan estimates there are about 10 companies - mainly smaller ones with a fleet of a few dozen cars - offering such one or two-year leasing schemes.

But he remains confident of demand because of the sheer price of cars here.

He says: "Singapore is the most expensive place in the world to own a car and some people just want access to one."

This article was first published on June 4, 2016.
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