Why Vehicle-related Apps Thrive in Malaysia

4 start-ups that make road travel more convenient

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BY Marishka M. Cabrera - 23 Nov 2016

transportation apps malaysia

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Traffic problems in Southeast Asian cities have become an everyday reality for most of its inhabitants—who, in one way or another, simply try to keep the situation from getting in the way of their work and personal life. Malaysia is no exception.

In Malaysia, 93% of households own a car—the third-highest car ownership in the world, according to a 2014 Nielsen survey. It also has the highest incidence of multiple car ownership, with 54% of households having more than one car.

Entrepreneur Ashwin Jeyapalasingam, co-founder and COO of online bus-booking platform CatchThatBus, says he expects car ownership to be on the rise, albeit at a lower rate.

“I still own a vehicle, but take ride-sharing as my primary mode of transport. Expect that this trend will be on the rise, with gradually less people deciding to drive themselves, but taking Grab or Uber won't reduce number of cars on the road,” he adds.  

In an effort to solve Malaysia’s traffic woes, a number of start-ups turn to technology.

“I think the reason they’ve found success is because transportation is still a very large pain-point that needs to be solved,” says Jeyapalasingam.

As for public transport, he explains that while commuting needs have increased, the traditional transport system hasn’t grown or evolved at a similar pace. Hence, apps that help bridge that gap are well-received.

“The LRT extensions and MRT opening I think will have significant impact on the traffic in KL, but only if there is sufficient connectivity to the stops. Currently the feeder systems to these stops are poor, so still many people drive,” he says.

Here are four vehicle-related apps that make road travel more convenient for Malaysians:


1. CarBengkel

Having your car break down in the middle of the road is hassle enough. Most car owners do not want to waste time waiting in line at a repair shop or driving around in search for the best price. At the same time, car workshops struggle to attract customers while dealing with a fixed monthly overhead cost.

To help bridge the gap, CarBengkel is an app that allows car owners to locate the nearest car repair shop, find a tow truck, or send an SOS request in order to be rescued. Another feature is the pick-up service, wherein CarBengkel can signal the nearest workshop to pick up your car from your home or office and bring it to the workshop for repair and deliver it back to you. The app can also provide you with quotations from all the registered workshops within your vicinity.

To ensure quality, workshops are assessed for their performance based on clients’ ratings and feedback. According to its site, it has a network of some 5,000 workshops, 25,000 mechanics, and 125,000 customers.


2. CatchThatBus

“In the bus space especially, literally nothing has changed in how people take a bus now and 50 years ago, except perhaps air-conditioning. How can that be, when our needs as a society have evolved so much in the same period?” says Jeyapalasingam.

With operations in Malaysia and Singapore, CatchThatBus allows passengers to book and purchase tickets by logging on to its website or through its mobile app, in an Inc. Southeast Asia story. It was established in response to issues facing the bus industry—inefficient manual bookings, arbitrary price mark-ups, bad customer experience, and lack of transparency and accountability on the part of the bus operators.

They have recently established physical counters at various terminals and introduced cash-on-delivery in the Klang Valley to reach out to potential customers who are either unwilling or unable to transact online. Next year, the company will be opening an office in another Southeast Asian country.

“We've now realized that we need to work outside the confines of a dotcom to continue to grow and really address our target market effectively,” he says.


3. Katsana

It is not just the traffic situation that is the problem in Kuala Lumpur. In Malaysia, one car is stolen every 24 minutes and less than one out of 10 cars is recovered and returned to the owner. Katsana’s technology enables users to track vehicle location with the use of tracking devices, as told in an Inc. Southeast Asia story. It improves the chances of recovery in cases of theft, and thus far, Katsana has recovered 56 out of 57 stolen cars.

Katsana co-founder and CEO Syed Ahmad Fuqaha says the company has made inroads into fleet management for enterprises. SMEs in Malaysia can monitor not only their vehicles’ location, but also fuel consumption. Through Katsana, fleet operators can detect a sudden drop in fuel level, which may indicate siphoning or spillage, as well as refueling. Management will receive a notification containing the driver’s information, location, and the amount in liters of refuel or sudden drop in fuel.  


4. Grab

Grab, originally under the name MyTeksi, is a ride-hailing app allows passengers to book a car or taxi, determine the estimated fare, and track the driver’s location. As discussed in an Inc. Southeast Asia story, the company’s philosophy is simple: solve local problems. For founders Anthony Tan and Tan Hooi Ling, the safety of passengers and getting drivers to adopt the system had to be addressed first.

Considered as one of Southeast Asia’s superstar start-ups, Grab is now present in six countries across the region and has a total of $1.43 billion in funding, according to data from Crunchbase.

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