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Yellowknife

A onetime Yellowknife kid hopes to transform online car sales


One of the minds behind Clutch, an online marketplace designed to simplify the process of buying second-hand cars – is Yellowknife-born Dan Park.

Clutch chief executive Park grew up in Yellowknife, where his father was an architect. He graduated from Sir John Franklin High School in the late ’90s, studied at McGill University, and went to work on Wall Street.  

Before launching Clutch, Park was the general manager and head of Uber Eats Canada, where he launched the service in more than 100 cities and signed partnerships with the likes of McDonald’s and Starbucks. 

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In 2019, Park left Uber Eats to keep working in the online retail space – this time selling cars, not cuisine. 

Clutch buys and sells used vehicles entirely online.

“I think anyone that’s interacted with our product is blown away,” said Park.

“They get really excited about it, it’s literally like magic. You press a few buttons and the next day, a car shows up in your driveway. It’s a very cool experience.”

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Asked whether this model could be used in northern areas like the NWT, Park says the service “actually works really well in more rural areas.”

Clutch doesn’t, however, currently work in the territory. At the moment, the site delivers vehicles within a four-hour radius of the Greater Toronto Area, in a range of British Columbia locations like Victoria, Kelowna, and Kamloops, and in a handful of other regions.

Try to order a vehicle from Yellowknife, and you’ll be told it can be delivered to Calgary instead. Last month, the company announced it hopes to be capable of serving 90 percent of Canadians by the end of 2023. 

It isn’t the only player – there are a handful of companies providing similar services, most notably Vancouver-based Canada Drives, though none are active in the North.

Park said the benefit of a Clutch-like service in Yellowknife would be seen in the expansion of available vehicles.

“There’s, like, three dealerships there with, I don’t know, 40 cars on the lot, right? There’s not a lot of choice,” Park explained.  

“So if you really wanted the specific SUV, in a specific colour, with this much mileage, in this condition, [it’s] pretty hard to find that in some of the more remote cities. So where we actually do really well is places that don’t have a lot of selection.” 

Registrations down, prices up

Car registrations dropped across the territory in both 2019 and 2020, even as the population increased by a small margin. In 2020, the number of registered NWT vehicles fell by 1,539 from 40,269 to 38,730. Only two years have seen bigger drops: 2007, during the global financial crisis, and 2000.

It remains to be seen how much of that shift is due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Nationally, car sales and prices have jumped since the onset of the pandemic. The cost of buying a passenger vehicle in Yellowknife climbed by 7.8 percent from October 2020 to October 2021. The increase was just 2.3 percent between 2019 and 2020. 

Park says that jump isn’t simply a product of the pandemic. He believes the shift was already in the works. 

“Even pre-pandemic, some of the online players have been growing 10 to 15 times year over year, or over the course of the last couple years, to become really large, multi-billion-dollar companies,” he said. 

“This was going to happen eventually. The pandemic accelerated that and gave a lot of Canadians no choice [but] to think more e-commerce.

“People started going online for more and more goods and services, groceries, clothing, whatever. And so cars were just a natural extension of that.”

Huw Williams, director of public affairs at the Canadian Automobile Dealers Association – known as Cada – said the move to online car sales has been in the works for decades. 

“I can remember being at the National Auto Dealers Convention in 1998, which was a North American-wide convention, and the theme of that convention really was built around ‘clicks and orders will soon replace bricks and mortars in the next two years,’” recalled Williams. 

Williams said today’s consumers are often “extremely educated” compared to people in the past who knew very little when they arrived on the lot.

“They viewed the vehicles online, they viewed the reports from independent reporting agencies, they’ve read what journalists have said, they’ve read reviews that they have from friends and others on social media, and they have a sense of what they’re looking for,” he explained.

“And so those consumers are a real benefit for the industry, because they know what they want.”

As the marketplace continues to expand online, Williams said the “only point of contention” for Cada is in ensuring consistency of customer protection across the country.  

“Historically, there has been a framework in each provincial and territorial jurisdiction that lays out consumer protection legislation,” he said. 

Those protections include anything from the level of training for sales staff to how documents are signed.   

“We want to have the same rules apply to all of the people that are in the marketplace, so that traditional dealership networks who may be selling online are competing in the same way with new market entrants,” explained Williams. 

“The dynamic has shifted really in the customer’s favour, toward making sure that they have a good customer experience, and dealers recognize that they have to compete online and have to do things in an innovative way.”

Looking forward, Park said Clutch is focusing on expansion and maintaining positive customer experiences “with the ultimate goal of making our way back home to Yellowknife.”

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