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The best car workshop in Singapore could be in your smartphone
MELISSA Tan recently faced one of the true time sinks of car ownership: Taking it for servicing and repairs. But instead of taking a day off work to get it done, the 48-year-old civil servant picked up her smartphone and launched AutoApp.
A new app for Apple and Android smartphones, AutoApp let Ms Tan get new tyres and repair the suspension on her five-year-old Audi Q3 without leaving home.
It paired her with a workshop and dispatched a service ambassador to take her Audi there for her. Mechanics then diagnosed the car's needs and gave her a quote, which she accepted. Once the car was done, it was sent back to her home. Everything, including payment, was handled on the app.
"We're in the business of giving you your time back," said Sheldon Trollope, the spokesman for Ignition Labs, the local company that developed AutoApp.
He founded the business with Joel Tam, a media entrepreneur, and Alvin Tan, who spent much of his working life in the car aftersales business.
"Look at how food delivery apps have proliferated. We're simply offering the same level of convenience and time-saving, except this time applied to the car industry," he said.
Mr Trollope said Ignition Labs' market research showed that people likely to use the app are white collar professionals to whom time is a limiting factor, rather than cost.
"Top luxury brands have already been offering this type of service for some time, we just want to be able to bring this experience to a wider audience," he told The Business Times.
AutoApp's launch is perfectly timed, given how the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic is hastening the adoption of digital tech. In an April earnings call, Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella said he'd seen two years' worth of digitalisation in two months.
The car industry has been scrambling to adapt. Several brands put cars for sale online as a way to work around retail closures during the Circuit Breaker measures, for example. Some are now catering to customers unwilling to enter a showroom. Last week, Porsche rolled out unaccompanied test drives, letting prospective buyers here take a new car for a spin with a salesperson present only via teleconferencing.
While AutoApp was conceived to make car servicing more convenient for the time-poor, the pandemic has created another benefit: It's as contactless as possible.
From a social distancing point of view, using the app beats sitting in a service reception area with other customers and taking public transport from the workshop.
Users only deal with a single service person, and their cars are thoroughly sanitised right before they are handed back.
But given how cars can be prized possessions, Mr Trollope said AutoApp isn't about matching a random gig worker to a car in need of servicing. Instead, it has its own team of service advisers, most of whom have a relevant background in automotive aftersales.
"At the end of the day, we want to build trust and to establish a long-term relationship with our customers, much like you would with a mechanic at a workshop previously. So our service ambassadors couldn't be just anyone," Mr Trollope said. "Of course, there's full insurance coverage, as well."
That proved an important point for Ms Tan. "The key thing for me was trust. Do I trust them with my car? But it helped that they communicated a lot, were very responsive, and throughout the whole process I received regular updates," she said.
AutoApp charges users directly for the door-to-door service, so Ms Tan paid a S$68 service fee on top of the actual cost of the repairs.
"To be honest I had to think twice about the fee, as it's not a small sum," she said. She ultimately calculated that the time and hassle saved were worth the fee. "Having used the service, I'd do it again," she said.
Digital tech may be altering the way we test and buy new cars, but if Ms Tan's experience is anything to go by, new services like AutoApp could change the way we take care of them, too.