Softbank-Backed Auto-Leaser Fair Hits a Bumpy Road and Shifts to Long-Term Leases

Ben Bergman

Ben Bergman is the newsroom's senior finance reporter. Previously he was a senior business reporter and host at KPCC, a senior producer at Gimlet Media, a producer at NPR's Morning Edition, and produced two investigative documentaries for KCET. He has been a frequent on-air contributor to business coverage on NPR and Marketplace and has written for The New York Times and Columbia Journalism Review. Ben was a 2017-2018 Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Economic and Business Journalism at Columbia Business School. In his free time, he enjoys skiing, playing poker, and cheering on The Seattle Seahawks.

Softbank-Backed Auto-Leaser Fair Hits a Bumpy Road and Shifts to Long-Term Leases

Fair, the Santa Monica-based, Softbank-backed used car marketplace, has been on a bumpy road of late. It raised more than $2 billion at a $1.2 billion valuation before having to hit reverse last year when it abruptly shed 40% of its staff, including its CFO Tyler Painter and his brother, founder and CEO Scott Painter. (He remains chairman.)

"The company has gone through a very difficult 12 months," said Fair CEO Brad Stewart, an ex-private equity banker who joined the company in May. "Mistakes were made and investors and managers have realized that."

Since taking over in the middle of the pandemic, Stewart has embarked on a series of what he calls "strategy pivots" large and small to turn the company around.

"I have tackled easier leadership challenges in the past but this is what I was built to do and thrive on," Stewart said. "We're a lot more focused than we were 12 months ago."

In the latest shift, announced Thursday, Fair will now offer longer leases more common for the new car industry to consumers who wish to have lower monthly payments than the month-to-month option the company previously offered. Customers will save an average of $40 per month on a 2-year lease and $70 per month if they sign for three years.

As new cars have become increasingly expensive, Stewart hopes the leases will appeal to consumers who lack the 700+ FICO scores many new leases require. Since new cars lose thousands of dollars in depreciation as soon as they are driven off the lot, he says vehicles that are a few years old offer a good value proposition and not everyone wants to purchase one.

"It's really perfect for people who don't need something for more than three years." Stewart said.

www.fair.com

Painter, who previously started TrueCar, founded Fair in 2016 to disrupt the stodgy $120 billion used car industry, which is still dominated by dealers of varying degrees of repute. With Fair, consumers can lease a car using their smartphone for a set cost that includes tax, registration, limited warranty, routine maintenance and roadside assistance. But the company had trouble growing fast enough to justify its lofty valuation.

Because he started as CEO during the pandemic in May, Stewart says he has only been able to meet a handful of employees face-to-face. "It's tough to get to know people when you're only engaging them digitally," he said.

Stewart speaks weekly to investors including Softbank, which has a $500 million equity stake, and says he is trying to refocus Fair to provide more affordable vehicles than some of the "fancy" models it previously offered. "I think we need to be more focused on assets that fit more deeply into value," he said.

Stewart says he thinks Fair also needs to be better at selling to dealers and improve its digital merchandising. "There's a lot of backend stuff we have to be better on," he said.

Used car sales have soared during the pandemic as production of new cars dwindled and consumers decided riding in their own car was safer than public transit and ride sharing. Prices jumped by as much as 40% last month, but Stewart does not expect the trend to continue long-term.

"It's a fading trend," he said. "It will normalize. It is stabilizing already."

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Los Angeles’ Wage Growth Outpaced Inflation. Here’s What That Means for Tech Jobs

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College and previously covered technology and entertainment for TheWrap and reported on the SoCal startup scene for the Los Angeles Business Journal. Send tips or pitches to samsonamore@dot.la and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

Los Angeles’ Wage Growth Outpaced Inflation. Here’s What That Means for Tech Jobs

Inflation hit cities with tech-heavy workforces hard last year. Tech workers fortunate enough to avoid layoffs still found themselves confronting rising costs with little change in their pay.

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Energy Shares Wants to Offer You a Chance to Invest in Green Energy Startups

David Shultz

David Shultz reports on clean technology and electric vehicles, among other industries, for dot.LA. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Outside, Nautilus and many other publications.

Energy Shares Wants to Offer You a Chance to Invest in Green Energy Startups
Photo by Red Zeppelin on Unsplash

The Inflation Reduction Act contains almost $400 billion in funding for clean energy initiatives. There’s $250 billion for energy projects. $23 billion for transportation and EVs. $46 billion for environment. $21 billion for agriculture, and so on. With so much cash flowing into the sector, the possibilities for investment and growth are gigantic.

These investment opportunities, however, have typically been inaccessible for everyday retail investors until much later in a company’s development–after an IPO, usually. Meaning that the best returns are likely to be captured by banks and other institutions who have the capital and financing to invest large sums of money earlier in the process.

That’s where Pasadena-based Energy Shares comes in. The company wants to help democratize access to these investment opportunities and simultaneously give early-stage utility-scale energy projects another revenue stream.

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Aisha Counts
Aisha Counts is a business reporter covering the technology industry. She has written extensively about tech giants, emerging technologies, startups and venture capital. Before becoming a journalist she spent several years as a management consultant at Ernst & Young.
Why These Ukrainian Entrepreneurs Are Making LA Their Home
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