Dubai-based pay-per-minute car rental startup Ekar raises $17.5 million Series B, expands to Saudi

Dubai-based pay-per-minute car rental startup Ekar has raised $17.5 million in a Series B round, the startup announced today, saying that the round was closed in June earlier this year. The round was led by Dubai-based Polymath Ventures and joined by Al Yemni Group and Audacia Capital.

Founded in 2015, Ekar enables users to rent cars by minute, hour or day through its mobile app (available for both Android and iOS) in the United Arab Emirates (and now in Saudi). The users after downloading the app have to register themselves with a valid driving license, ID, and a valid credit card.

Once registered, they can locate cars on the app and book the closest on a pay-per-minute (up to 5 hours), daily, weekly or monthly basis. The users can then unlock the booked car with app and find the key inside its glove box (which can be retrieved using the personalized pin code).

Ekar’s cars in Dubai and Abu Dhabi are available at prices starting from AED 0.6 per minute. The cars come with free fuel and the users can refuel them when they run out of fuel at petrol stations of Ekar’s partners.

Ekar, per statement, currently serves over 50,000 monthly bookings in the United Arab Emirates. Its website notes that it has more than 1,000 cars available in its fleet.

Vilhelm Hedberg, Ekar’s co-founder and CEO, commenting on the investment, said, “We are delighted to have a select group of strategic investors who are aligned with ekar’s passion to provide cost-effective mobility across emerging markets. ekar’s in-house tech team now has the fuel to scale ekar across MENAT.”

Ali Hashemi, Managing Director of Polymath Ventures, said, “We believe smart systems and shared transport platforms like ekar are the future for sustainable mobility especially in cities with densely populated environments such as Riyadh. We invest with conviction where teams are driving innovation to solve tomorrow’s problems today, and we look forward to helping ekar succeed.”

Expanding to Saudi

The startup today has also announced that it is expanding to Saudi Arabia with the launch of its operations in Riyadh. Saudi is the first international market for Ekar. Ekar that’s launching with 600 cars in Riyadh also plans to expand to other cities of Saudi including Dammam, Jeddah, Mecca, Medina, and KAEC (aka Rabigh) in the future.

Ekar in Saudi is integrated with Yakeen (a digital product that helps businesses verify their customers’ information against government data) and Tamm (used by vehicle owners including car rental companies for any type of transaction or receiving information of vehicles) so the users in Saudi will be instantly approved after they enter a valid email address, mobile number, ID, and driving license details.

The prices of cars in Saudi, according to Ekar’s statement range from SAR 0.4 to 0.75, “The average ekar ride is 60 minutes that can cost as little as 24 Riyals, a price which includes fuel and insurance and no monthly membership fees and is a fraction of the cost of ride-hailing services, traditional car rentals or taxis.”

Ekar in Saudi will be competing with Idrive, a local startup that has been operational since last year and already has significant traction in the country.

Vilhelm Hedberg, co-founder and CEO of Ekar, commenting on Saudi expansion, said, “We are excited to announce the launch of ekar Riyadh and are eager to improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of Saudi residents and tourists alike with ekar’s seamless carshare service. Today, ekar UAE services 50,000 bookings per month, a number which we expect to quadruple over the next twelve months as we launch services across cities in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries. We have 1,000 ekars in our fleet and over 75,000 members and envision surpassing 10,000 ekars and over a million members by 2021.”

The statement by Ekar notes that it is entering an inflection point as it expands to Saudi where a young and tech-savvy poulation of 20 million smartphone users are by-passing traditional car ownership for alternative mobility solutions, “ekar is a natural extension of the transportation vertical in KSA and is perfectly suited to address a growing demand for cost-effective transportation on the back of ekar’s four years of experience building a world-class carsharing business. In addition, more than 70,000 women in the Kingdom have been issued driving licenses, and ekar is well-positioned to be the ‘first-car solution’ for these drivers.”

The new users in Saudi, per statement, can enjoy two hours of free drive time when they sign up through Ekar’s app.

Zubair Naeem Paracha
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