Used car startups take a U-turn as sales remain sluggish

India’s used-car sales market – which had heated up during 2021 and 2022 after supply chain constraints from Covid19 pandemic and Russia-Ukraine war – is now seeing a palpable slowdown. With profitability still a far cry for venture-backed companies like Spinny, Cars24 and CarDekho, these platforms are either putting the brakes on business expansion or exiting the segment completely.

Sources told ET that SoftBank-backed Cars24 was executing a calculated expansion of cities from where it was buying cars and has stopped expanding the number of cities where it sells cars. Tiger Global-backed Spinny is also learnt to have stopped entering new markets, focussing instead on its existing markets. Meanwhile, Sequoia Capital-funded CarDekho pulled out of the used-cars retail business in January-February this year citing no sight of profitability.

Currently, while Spinny is selling around 6,500 cars a month, Cars24 is selling around 5,000 cars a month, and these numbers have stagnated for the last six months

“It’s not that the industry is slowing down because new car sales are growing faster than before. But because of Covid and supply chain issues, a lot of new model launches were delayed, which have happened in the last six months or so. Demand sentiments are positive, which means that if new cars are being sold, supply is coming into the used cars market,” a mobility focussed venture investor told ET.


According to Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) data new passenger vehicle sales in India grew to a record high of around 40 lakh units in 2022-23 (April-March), driven by a surge in demand for sport-utility vehicles (SUVs). This happened after two years of constrained production of new cars hit by semiconductor shortages, and a subsequent delay in launches.

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While for the used-cars segment, the increase in sale of new cars bodes well in terms of fresh supply of older cars coming to the market, it also takes away from the growth seen when customers with an appetite for four-wheelers had to turn to used cars given the long waiting periods for new vehicles.

“For venture-backed companies, like Spinny and Cars24, they have raised a lot of capital that they were burning indiscriminately to gain market share from non-branded dealers. They were offering prices 5-10% more than what one would normally get, just to get topline growth. They were losing around Rs 40,000-Rs 50,000 on every car,” the investor added. “Now they’ve started giving reasonable pricing with a focus on the bottom line”.

In 2021 alone, Cars24 raised $850 million – including $210 million in debt – from marquee investors such as SoftBank and Alpha Wave Global. Meanwhile, Spinny raised more than $530 million from investors including Tiger Global, General Catalyst and Elevation Capital, since it was founded in June 2015.

As these platforms aim to become more prudent in buying and selling used vehicles, a key concern emerging for them is the vintage inventory purchased during the peak growth period in 2021 and early 2022.

“To show profitable growth, platforms are now buying and selling cars at a more market determined rate compared to a year ago. But a key question that investors are raising is about the inventory they bought at prices higher than market rates when they were sitting on a long cash runway,” an investor backing one of the used car platforms said.

Used car marketplaces in slow lane_Graphic_ETTECHETtech

Hunt for profitability

One of the common strategies emerging at used-car sales platforms is to limit the non-profitable topline growth. Both the companies have managed to reduce their monthly cash burn significantly. For Spinny, the burn rate is down to less than half of what it was in 2021, while for Cars24, it has come down to around $8 million a month from over $20 million in 2021.

“It’s easy to increase the topline. You could do it simply by doing geographical expansion. But controlling the bottomline is very difficult. You can’t get scale efficiencies in smaller cities and to keep expanding in smaller cities means the bottomline remains under pressure,” an executive at Cars24 said, on the condition of anonymity.

“On the supply side, the company took a strategic decision to slow down on expansion of cities. This year, there’s a plan to increase the footprint but in a calibrated manner. The company is looking to expand into cities in batches of 10, and only move on to the next batch, if the first one starts showing returns,” the executive said, adding that Cars24 is currently in over 100 cities on the supply side.

“On the demand side, we are not expanding the number of cities, but we plan to go deeper and focus on getting market share,” he added, saying Cars24 is present in approximately 40 cities.

Its rival platform Spinny, which is based around 20 minutes away from the Cars24 corporate headquarters in Gurgaon, has a much smaller presence in around 15-20 cities. Spinny has also decided to focus on its existing markets. The company is present in Delhi, Gurgaon, Noida, Bengaluru, Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad, Chennai, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Lucknow, Jaipur, Chandigarh, Indore, and Coimbatore.

“The top 4-5 markets such as Delhi-NCR, Bengaluru, Mumbai account for almost two-thirds of the sales for Spinny, and therefore a call has been taken to double down on the existing footprint, which is close to generating operating-level profitability,” a Spinny executive told ET.

In terms of marketing and promotion, where Cars24 has taken its foot off the gas pedal, Spinny continued with its marketing spends, including this year’s Indian Premier League (IPL)

“Cars24 stopped branding campaigns by mid-2022. We had started seeing signals of a slump, and started acting on it immediately,” the executive said. The company also did not renew its sponsorship deal with IPL franchise Sunrisers Hyderabad.

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