40 car buyers look for missing dealer in showroom showdown: 'This is worse than Jover Chew'
He thought he got a steal of an early Christmas gift for his father - a brand new car.
But yesterday, all Mr Kenny Lim, 36, got was a rude shock.
He had put a deposit on the car he saw in the Volks Auto showroom at Three Rifles Building on MacPherson Road - but the car was no longer there.
The owner of the dealership was not contactable.
And he was not the only angry customer. A group of other buyers had also turned up at the showroom yesterday demanding the return of their downpayment.
Mr Lim's $37,000 deposit to Volks Auto also seemed to have vanished.
All he could do was grip a stack of pink-coloured pages - his sales agreement - wondering what led him to sign them in October.
"I bought the car for my father," said the sales manager. "He had a stroke recently and can't drive his old manual car.
"This was a Christmas gift for him to get around. What am I going to tell him now?"
To speed up the process, Mr Lim had chosen the display model, a Honda Vezel S.
At $108,000, including a certificate of entitlement for the car, it was a bargain.
The same model costs about $130,000 at other parallel importers.
The icing on the cake was Volks Auto's high trade-in offer of $15,000 for his father's old Toyota Vios.
Other dealers were offering $10,000 for similar trade-ins.
When Volks Auto did not provide the registration and chassis numbers of the car, Mr Lim became suspicious.
Staff at Volks Auto told him the car had been sent for inspection and was delayed.
They declined to give him details, which would have allowed him to track the vehicle he ordered.
At noon yesterday, Mr Lim decided to visit the showroom. He was shocked to see around 30 other furious customers there.
The showroom was closed and none of its staff were present.
All that remained was a white Bentley behind the glass, a luxury car worth more than $600,000.
Pointing to the crowd, Mr Lim said angrily: "How the hell did it come to this?
"I almost wanted to smash the glass down to get in."
The other customers were similarly outraged. Each had forked out between $20,000 to $40,000 in deposits.
Some customers held young children, while others arrived in their office attire after lunch.
One customer said the deals offered were "too good to resist".
Another said the staff were professional, and the number of Bentleys and Rolls-Royces in the showroom gave him "confidence that the deal was legitimate".
"We want the authorities to look into this matter," said Mr Richard Lee, 61.
IT manager K. K. Lo, 53, who had put down $20,000 for a Honda Fit, said he was part of a WhatsApp group of 13 netizens from mycarforum.com.
His group members had been updating each other about their encounters with Volks Auto. When they realised the showroom was closed, they decided to gather there yesterday.
"I was shocked to see another WhatsApp group here, so we combined forces," said Mr Lo, showing the details of the group's chat on his smartphone.
"We now have 43 group members." He estimated the amount of deposit paid to Volks Auto to be about $1 million.
The group also did background checks on the company and shared details about its director.
Some of Mr Lo's group visited the director's home to get answers, but had no success, as the corner terrace house was vacant.
"This is clearly a scam because buying cars is supposed to be a transparent process.
"Jover Chew is nothing compared to this," he said, referring to the Sim Lim Square retailer that made headlines recently.
As the group left to lodge police reports at around 4pm, a security guard at the building wanted them to pay their parking fees.
Mr Lim shouted at the guard while others held him back: "We all lost money here. Don't tell me about your $1 or $2 problem."
Even after the group left, a few others streamed in only to discover the showroom closed.
The New Paper understands that Volks Auto had more than a hundred customers since the business started in April.
The director of Volks Auto could not be contacted. Police are investigating.
This is clearly a scam because buying cars is supposed to be a transparent process. Jover Chew is nothing compared to this.
- Customer K. K. Lo
'I think he was trying to change his appearance'
In the early hours yesterday, the director of Volks Auto was seen entering the building with a number of tow trucks.
Within the hour, the truck drivers had towed away four vehicles from the dealership, leaving behind a Bentley in the showroom.
"He came at a time when no one was around, other than my guys," said Mr Deen Safarrudin, 39, the operations and security manager of Three Rifles Building.
"My security officer at the time didn't ask anything because he knew the man to be the owner of Volks Auto. He looked strange because he had shaved his head. I think he was trying to change his appearance. He never came back after that."
He was unsure about what was going on until noon yesterday, when around 30 customers turned up to demand their deposits.
He said: "They opened not long ago, but their hours are irregular. Sometimes they open in the morning, sometimes they open in the evening. It's very weird."
One of Volks Auto's three sales staff said that they, too, were victims.
"The boss disappeared just like that, what am I supposed to do?" he said over the phone, declining to be named.
"Since Saturday, I've been getting angry calls and texts from customers and I don't know what to tell them.
"We work on a commission basis. I have a wife and two young children, and I'm afraid people will come looking for me."
He revealed that his boss was the one who handled the fulfilment of the contracts, not the sales staff, and that his job was just "to get as many sales as I can".
He had heard the cars were being towed away around midnight.
When he got there early yesterday morning, only the Bentley was there."I don't know where the cars went. Last I heard, (my boss) had gone to Hong Kong and said he will be back by the end of the week."
When TNP visited the director's home in MacPherson yesterday evening, it appeared empty. Neighbours said they believed there was only one person living in the large three-storey corner unit with a swimming pool.
One nearby resident said: "Every morning, you can hear the sound of his sports car. The last time I saw the car was about two weeks ago. I've not seen them since."
Since Saturday, I've been getting angry calls and texts from customers and I don't know what to tell them.
- A Volks Auto sales staff member
PRICE DIFFERENCE 'IMPOSSIBLE'
The New Paper spoke to three parallel car importers.
Mr Patrick Lim, 44, one of the partners of Apex Car, said his customers had told him of Volks Auto, but he found it "shady".
He said a difference of $1,000 to $2,000 in the price of the car from the market average is possible, but a difference of $10,000 is impossible.
He said: "It's ridiculous, if they sell at that price, they will surely make a loss. They just started their business, so there's no way they can be cheaper than the more established dealers, because we indent in bulk.
"Even if they want to do it to get a customer base, they would be making so much of a loss that the business would surely fold."
A salesman from VinCar said a customer had told them that Volks Auto was charging $35,000 less for a car.
The salesman, who wanted to be known only as Dave, said: "They were suspicious. One customer said he did a background check and found there were three cases pending against them."
Mr Larry Loh, 27, a salesman from Car Times Automobile, said: "We did checks on them and found an investment of only $200,000.
"Based on my experience, if they actually sold at the prices (that) they did, they would have been making a huge loss."
Lawyers TNP spoke to said police reports should be made by the customers, but they can also pursue the matter in civil court.
Lawyer Luke Lee from Luke Lee & Co said customers can sue for breach of contract and damages if they can prove it. "They can sue for cheating if the man never intended to deliver. They can also sue for criminal breach of trust," he added.
Commercial crimes lawyer Terence Seah from Shook Lin & Bok LLP said: "He can be sued under the tort of deceit, or breach of contract."
Both lawyers agreed that it would be difficult if the man has absconded, but believed customers could still get their money back if his assets can be located.
Car dealer Mr Lim, however, feels that buyers should just be more careful in future.
He said: "It takes two hands to clap. If it's too good to be true, then you really shouldn't be so trusting, especially with so much money involved."
BEFORE BUYING A CAR
5 things you should do before making a downpayment on a car
If the price is too good to be true, it probably is. Car dealers TNP spoke to said the prices of cars are at most $3,000 cheaper than the market average.
Some car dealers are members of the Singapore Vehicle Traders Association, which does its own background checks. Such associations ensure that dealers are credible.
Car dealers in car malls are safer, according to dealers TNP spoke to. This is because background checks are conducted on them before they can rent a shop at these locations.
4 BRANDING AND ESTABLISHMENT
A dealer who has been in the market for a long time will be better able to deliver. He would also have a large customer base, so there is little reason for him not to.
If a dealer has yet to deliver a single car, it is best to wait. Online reviews will show the quality of service and product.