The Brilliance and Uncertainty of MENA’s Car Care Services Industry
It’s no secret that the MENA region has been witnessing a flood of on-demand startups. From food delivery to transportation, businesses are popping up across industries to cater to consumers’ needs for fast and convenient services.
The automotive industry, which is constantly challenged with technological developments and evolving business models, is fully embracing the on-demand trend, and in the past few years has witnessed the launch of hundreds of on-demand car services by existing providers and operators as well as entrepreneurs across the region.
According to global analysts Frost & Sullivan, 33.91 million passenger vehicles will cover the MENA region’s roads by 2020, a 61% increase over today’s 21.02 million cars. This rising number of vehicles has made MENA a growing market for innovative on-demand services specifically in the car care sector.
Encompassing services such as car washing, roadside assistance and car maintenance, car care businesses are booming, partly due to the large number of cars being sold as well as the region’s particular weather conditions.
Startups, in particular, are aiming to revolutionize the traditional car care sector with innovative technological alternatives that are eco-friendly, convenient, and time-saving.
Redefining the Car Wash Industry
Getting one’s car washed can be quite the hassle, whether it means driving to the gas station and waiting in line or taking time out of one’s day to wash it oneself. In addition to being time-consuming, traditional car wash services also pose a threat to the environment and waste a lot of water, with approximately 100-200 liters being spent per mid-sized car.
Today, car owners have an alternative to traditional car wash providers, thanks to startups which are aiming to provide eco-friendly, convenient and time-saving services. On-demand car wash applications allow car owners to schedule a car wash at their convenience anytime and anywhere, saving them time and money. Most of the startups are also embracing waterless or near-waterless cleaning processes due to increases in water charges and sustainability initiatives being enforced by governments in the region.
Keno, Blink My Car, and Ghaseel are three of several on-demand car wash startups operating actively in the MENA region. While all three startups offer similar services, each follows a different business model.
Launched in Dubai in 2016, Keno is an on-demand car wash service app that allows customers to order a car wash to any location through a user-friendly mobile app. Unlike most other on-demand car wash apps in the UAE, Keno runs and manages its own fleet of highly trained staff and does not rely on third party wash providers. In an industry saturated with competition, the startup boasts exceptional customer service and outstanding quality as its fortes over competitors. Currently averaging between 30-60 daily washes, the startup aims to average between 600-800 daily washes by next year.
Lebanon-based Blink My Car launched in November 2015 and provides on-demand waterless car and motorcycle cleaning and detailing. Unlike Keno, Blink My Car operates on the contractor model and outsources its labor or ‘partners’. The startup also boasts an eco-friendly service with their dry washing technique which they claim saved 500,000 liters of water in 2016. To date, Blink My Car has carried out over 4,000 services in Beirut and acquired over 7,000 registered users. Although Blink My Car closed a $1.2M seed round in June and had plans for expansion, the startup faced some challenges and closed last month.
Ghaseel is an on-demand car wash application that differs in model from both Keno and Blink My Car. The first and largest online marketplace for car wash and cleaning services in the Middle East, Ghaseel allows customers to compare over 30 different carwash services and prices, pre-book appointments up to a week in advance, and track and rate services. Since launching in Kuwait in November 2015, Ghaseel has received thousands of orders during its first year of service and has recently expanded its services geographically to the UAE starting with Dubai.
The Ubers of Roadside Assistance
Car washing isn’t the only car care service startups are offering. In the past few years, several startups vying to be ‘the Uber of Roadside Assistance’ have launched in MENA. Offering everything from towing and jump-starting a car to changing a flat tire and delivering gas, the startups aim to provide car owners with quick and affordable roadside assistance compared to traditional companies.
Launched in 2015, Morni provides on-demand roadside assistance across Saudi Arabia and parts of the GCC with a network of about 6000 providers. One of the first roadside assistance startups in the region as well as one of the most active, Morni offers a variety of services including towing, battery service & replacement, tire change & repair, locksmith, and fuel delivery services on the go. Averaging around 200 requests daily, since launching, Morni has served more than 18,000 people and been downloaded over 600,000 times. Last year, the startup received its first investment of $1.1M from Raed Ventures, a Saudi VC, which they plan to use to expand into other MENA markets and acquire more corporate clients.
Survival of the Fittest
While the market for car care startups in MENA does exist, challenges in the industry are inevitable. For one, in the highly competitive and often saturated market, it is important to stand out from the competition, yet the majority of car care startups in the region offer similar, if not identical, services.
Another challenge is pricing. The majority of car care startups charge (up to 2-3x) more than traditional car care services for the ‘convenience’ and ‘on-demand’ factor. Yet, in several countries across MENA, traditional car care service providers, such as car wash businesses, are readily available and much more affordable.
Finally, while startups are emerging in every single technological vertical in the automotive space, in MENA, the majority are centered on mobility (car sharing, ride hailing, and carpooling), car care services (car washing, roadside assistance, and car maintenance), and connected car technologies. In order to triumph in such a highly saturated and competitive market, car startups should continuously invest in testing, innovation, and new products/services.
Keno, Blink My Car, Ghaseel, and Morni are four of several on-demand startups seeking to disrupt the car care industry in MENA, and although they are thriving in their respective markets, these questions remain: are they sustainable? Can high-quality, eco-friendly, yet still relatively pricey on-demand car care services triumph in a region where traditional car care services are fairly inexpensive and readily available? And how will they scale in a region with such fragmented regulation?