Many car enthusiasts would love to own a Bugatti, Lamborghini or Ferrari, but for the majority, the super-car of their dreams is completely out of their financial reach.
Now a new blockchain-based platform called Bitcar is aiming to change ownership of ultra-luxury vehicles by making them accessible to everyone.
The platform, set up in 2015, offers investors fractional ownership of super, hyper and exotic cars via its platform. The luxury cars are acquired by the company and then stored or displayed for up to 15 years while they, unlike ordinary vehicles, appreciate in value.
The cars will be tokenised with investors that have purchased Bitcar tokens then able to swap them for car tokens to own a fraction of the vehicle of their choice.
The Singapore-based company has three founders including Gov Van Ek, from Holland, already active in the blockchain industry having previously cofounded Ledger Assets, an Australian blockchain company, as well as the blockchain energy company, Power Ledger and medical records company, E-nome, with his fellow Bitcar founder John Bulich, from Australia.
The duo attended Dubai International Blockchain Summit on Monday to explain their concept further to the Middle East, taking Bitcar’s car specialist Daniel Woodroof, a former race car driver from Malaysia, along for the ride.
The company is currently on a global tour to raise more than US$20 million in an initial coin offering (ICO), set to go live on January 25.
Here, the co-founders Mr Van Ek (GVE) and Mr Bulich (JB) as well as Mr Woodroof (DW) explain how Middle East investors can get involved.
How does Bitcar work?
DW: It's a platform that allows for fractional ownership in exotic cars. An exotic car is something we define as a super, hyper or collectible classic car. Over the last 10 years, this range of cars includes some of the best performing assets. It's an asset class that has exclusively been available to the super rich and through the tokenisation of these cars we allow for fractional ownership. We have independent verified agents that source and acquire these cars and put them onto our platform and, using the Bitcar tokens, platform users can then exchange them for car tokens with these tokens representing your fractional ownership in a car. Whereas in the past to own a rare Ferrari F40 you had to buy the whole car, now through tokenisation you can own 1 per cent if you like.
What happens to the cars?
DW: The car is held for a minimum of five years and a maximum of 15. When it is sold is down to the asset token holders so that is a democratic vote; after that the car is taken to auction with the returns passed back to the asset token holders. The platform also allows for peer to peer (P2P) trading — aside from actual ownership you have a platform where you can trade your interests in these cars. It opens up this previously inaccessible market to everybody.
What car brands will be involved?
DW: A lot of people think you can bring any old car onto the Bitcar platform but at this stage we are looking at a very select range of cars in this market. There are about $105 billion worth of cars that are available to us; $23bn of those are Ferraris alone so that is just one brand so we are looking at.
Where are the cars stored?
DW: That will be down to the verified third party agents. They are in charge of sourcing the cars, acquiring and tokenising them as well as taking care of the maintenance, insurance and storage side of things as well. So Bitcar itself is the technology provider; we are the decentralised platform. Anything to do with the cars themselves will be done through these agents.
Who are the agents?
GVE: We are in talks with a few parties in different jurisdictions that have approached us. An agent will be somebody with a track record, like a Ferrari dealer or the car manufacturers themselves. They will be very much aligned with the platform users. So if they buy a car and it does well they will also benefit from that in their own way. And if they were to source a bad car there would be consequences for them.
The storage of the cars will also be in public places, such as airports. We will have glass booths with a Bitcar in there that everybody can see. Initially, there will be one car in major cities to get the brand out there and then eventually there will be boutiques of these cars, where there will be 10 or 12 of them in one place — so it will like an art exhibition people will be able to enjoy.
JB: It’s also to prove that they actually exist.
But isn’t the whole point of a car to drive it?
GVE: The cars go back into the market every five to 15 years, so it's like fish — we take them out of the river, nurture them and people enjoy that and then they go back into the river and people will drive them again. So we are an ecosystem for the retention and promotion of these cars.
JB: A lot of supercars are never driven, they just sit in storage. There are owners that might have 10 Bugattis and 10 Ferraris and they don’t drive them themselves.
So it’s really about investment over car ownership?
GVE: We don't use the word investment ourselves. We are a P2P ownership and trading platform; why investors choose to buy is up to them but we are not an investment category as such.
JB: But the underlying asset class is a great investment.
How do investors switch from a Bitcar token to a car token?
DW: In the ICO, investors are only buying the Bitcar token, which gives them access to the platform. One of its uses is that it allows you to buy car tokens; now these car tokens could represent ownership in a Bugatti or a Ferrari but the values will change as the car tokens' names will depend on the cars they represent. So a Bugatti Veyron that represents ownership in that car will be called the Bugatti Veyron token and will inherently have a different value to that of a Ferrari F50 token or a Ferrari F40 token.
GVE: Each token represents a distinct car, or almost a component of that very car itself. It’s almost like you own the wing mirror or the glove compartment. So the investors can determine what car they are investing in.
If you buy a Bugatti, how many tokens would be awarded to that car?
JB: Probably a million tokens. Most cars would be fractionalised to about a million tokens. So if it is a $2 million car, then each token is about $2 worth. The token values will differ according to when it was acquired.
So, both Bitcar and the asset token are then subject to market forces?
GVE: The cryptocurrency Bitcar, which will go into the ICO, can fluctuate in the same ways as bitcoin or ethereum. It is distinct. In terms of the asset tokens representing the exotic cars, they will be pegged to the price of that asset as it's traded and as it's valued in the real world. So an investor can invest in Bitcar only if they want to but it's not backed by a physical asset — it's distinctly separate.
How can Middle East investors get involved?
GVE: When the website opens for the ICO, investors can go on there, look at all the documentation and transact through the website. You have to buy with bitcoin or ethereum. Each token will be priced at approximately US$0.10. There is no minimum you can buy, but there will only be 250 million available. The public sale will be open for four to six weeks.
Are there any fees involved?
JB: There is no fee for buying Bitcar but there will be a minimal fee for the asset tokens. Once you start trading — when you want to swap your Ferrari token for another one — there will be a fee. It will be much cheaper than shares, because it's all digital so our costs are minimal. It could even be zero fees initially.
How many tokens are there in total?
GVE: There are 500 million; 250 million will be sold in this ICO and there are a number of other pools. One pool is for the company tokens for further onboarding of partners onto the platform so we will use those tokens to accelerate the growth of the platform. And there is another pool for the founders and developers so that they remain fully aligned with the concept and development and are super motivated to ensure everything rolls out on time.
I understand there is a presale?
GVE: We've been approached by a number of larger investors that have already bought tokens and that process is ongoing in the lead up to the ICO. Bitcar's heart and Dubai and the UAE's interest in super and hyper cars are completely aligned. That's why we are here — we're at the beginning of our world tour and Dubai is the first stage.
How does the blockchain aspect of Bitcar work?
GVE: When you buy certain commodities or collectibles, such as art, you go into a bit of a grey world. Nobody really knows what anyone has bought or how much they own. One of the questions I was asked here in Dubai is how does anyone know if you are selling twice as many parts of that car than actually exists? That nailed it in one because the blockchain is transparent and visible, so every single stake in a car that comes onto the platform will become publicly visible from when it was transferred to the size of the lot. From the day it first comes onto the platform to the day it leaves, there is a track record on the platform and everybody can see.
Have you bought any cars yet?
GVE: No, we are a technology company and our job is to work through the programme of delivering the Bitcar token and once that phase is complete only then will we move cautiously into acquiring the right kind of car. That will probably be in the second half of the year.
Cryptocurrency is a hot topic at the moment because of its volatility — could it all go wrong?
DW: We are seeing increasing mass adoption and mass chat about cryptocurrencies and blockchain and with that comes a lot more users. The underlying blockchain technology is something that is here to stay.
GVE: It's a little like when the internet launched. People said 'oh my god, this bubble is going to collapse' but it didn't — it grew into a technology that is now widespread. There is a lot of volatility in bitcoin, but that means it is a real world product because people are buying something they are not sure of and there is real price discovery going on.