As the rental market heats up, Tribecar flounders amid fierce competition, user complaints and alleged cash flow issues.

The ballooning private-hire market, which has seen total rental fleet size quadrupling since 2014, may be leaving some operators out of puff. Tribecar - set up just over three years ago by a family that runs Malaysian conglomerate Insas, and which specialises in short-term rentals - has seen its bottom line eroded severely. The company has also been flagged by users for renting out cars with unpaid road taxes, bald tyres and unrepaired damage.

Tribecar has been flagged for renting cars with unpaid road taxes, bald tyres and unrepaired damage Members of a Facebook hirer community called Tribecar Spottings Singapore have highlighted at least four Tribecar cars with expired road taxes in recent weeks to warn others not to rent those vehicles. Driving a car without valid road tax is illegal. The occupants will also not be covered by insurance if an accident occurs. Tribecar users have also complained about cars that are not well-maintained, including at least one with bald tyres. They have also spotted cars - mostly Mazda 3s - being transferred to a new company called Car Lite.

Users suspect that the company may be facing a cash flow problem, and some are already looking to end their contracts. Hirer Jerry Yeo, 46, said, "I will be mailing in my termination letter to close my hirer account with Tribecar to get my $100 deposit back. I am concerned about the viability of the company going forward."

Users suspect that the company may be facing a cash flow problem Tribecar reported revenue of $5.1 million for the year ended June 30, 2018 last year - up sharply from $887,270 the year before, according to the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority. But its profit plunged to just $615, down from $37,928 the year before. Tribecar Co-founder Adrian Lee, 33, said yesterday that the unpaid road tax cases were isolated incidents. "We pay our road tax through Giro," he said, attributing the lapses to clerical error. "Car movement between companies is common in the industry," he added, referring to Mazda 3s being moved to Car Lite. "It shouldn't be surprising." Tribecar, he said, has been 'white-labelling our technology to other rental companies' so that they can convert their traditional rental business to 'a car-sharing service'.

Mr. Lee indicated that Tribecar and the companies with which it works have a profit-sharing arrangement, but would not divulge more. "You'll be hearing a lot more about us soon," he said. Mr. Lee said Tribecar's fleet had recently shrunk from 420 to 350 'to take advantage of the low COEs'. From more than $50,000 in 2017, certificate of entitlement prices for 1,600cc cars have halved in recent months.

Rental industry players point out that the sector has been facing overheated competition in recent years Rental industry players point out that the sector has been facing overheated competition since the so-called 'ride-share' phenomenon started with the arrival of Grab and Uber six years ago. Vehicle Rental Association president Vincent Tan said, "The barrier to entry is very low. Today, you see every other used car dealer renting out cars which they cannot sell. Even motor workshops are renting out cars. These are not strictly car rental companies. Their cars have very high mileages; some higher than taxis."

Mr. Tan said such cars would require more maintenance and repairs to keep them roadworthy. Established car rental firms, he added, rent or lease out self-drive vehicles that are not for private hire. These have lower mileages. "Our rates are higher, but our cars are well maintained," he added.

Individual motorists are also allowed to convert their vehicles to rental cars - either self-drive or chauffeur-driven, meaning private-hire. The Land Transport Authority charges $100 for each conversion. LTA figures show that the rental car population, including private-hire cars, was 70,204 as at last month - close to four times its size in 2014. As of February, private-hire cars outnumbered licensed drivers by 5,500.