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SoftBank-Backed Getaround Looks for a Buyer as Demand Evaporates

Bloomberg logoBloomberg 3/20/2020 Eliza Ronalds-Hannon, Giles Turner and Joshua Brustein

(Bloomberg) -- The car-sharing company Getaround is actively seeking a sale as the coronavirus outbreak has sent demand plunging and left the startup dangerously short on cash, according to people familiar with the matter.

The startup, whose backers include SoftBank’s $100 billion Vision Fund, has been one of the two leading companies in the peer-to-peer car-sharing industry, where people can rent out their private vehicles online for hours or days. Investors had valued it at well over $1 billion. Getaround has said it has 5 million users.

But travel companies have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic as large swaths of the global population have been ordered to stay mostly indoors. If Getaround cannot find a buyer or an infusion of cash, the startup may consider bankruptcy protection, said one of the people familiar with the matter, all of whom asked not to be identified because the information is private. Other backers of Getaround include Menlo Ventures and Toyota Motor Corp.

A spokeswoman for Getaround wrote in an email: “Like many other businesses, we are dealing with the impacts of the Covid-19 outbreak, both in the U.S. and Europe, and we are evaluating the appropriate steps to manage this unprecedented event. This includes the support of our investors.”

Economic impacts from the virus have been far-reaching and immediate, and startups have been particularly vulnerable. Many are unprofitable and lack a financial cushion. The trouble among SoftBank’s portfolio of startups has heightened concerns over the conglomerate’s creditworthiness and the value of its investments. Even before the pandemic, SoftBank Group Corp. founder Masayoshi Son faced criticism for pouring billions of dollars into unproven and unprofitable companies. OneWeb, backed by SoftBank Group, is considering bankruptcy, Bloomberg reported Thursday.

Getaround and the broader car-sharing industry had been facing challenges even before the pandemic. The number of vehicles on car-sharing networks as of January, about 2.7 million, is dwarfed by the number of ride-hailing drivers, 64.6 million, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Getaround said in January it had dismissed some workers but that it would continue to operate in more than 300 cities and that its revenue was growing sixfold. Last month, a car-sharing network owned by European automakers Daimler AG and BMW AG, called Share Now, stopped operating in North America.

This month, Getaround outlined measures it was taking in response to the Covid-19 outbreak, which included waiving cancellation fees and quarantining cars that had been in contact with the coronavirus. Turo Inc., Getaround’s main startup rival, announced similar policies. Both companies acknowledged they’d seen drops in demand.

On Thursday, as officials around the U.S. ordered many businesses to close, Getaround said it would keep renting cars. “Our service remains essential to our communities by providing flexible and safe access to transportation, and we are working to ensure it continues to be available during this time,” a spokeswoman said in a statement.

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