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Auto Fintech to Introduce Dealers to the Digital World

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Automotive retail and fintech upstart Digital Motors LLC is coming out of stealth mode and putting the final touches on its business-to-business platform, which will drive dealerships and the “traditional automotive world” at large to “move into the digital age,” according to co-founder and Chief Executive Andy Hinrichs.

“You can buy a house online, you can buy a pizza online and track it from the storefront to your doorstep—but you can’t buy a car online,” said Hinrichs, the co-founder and former chief executive of fellow Irvine automotive startup AutoGravity Corp. (see story, page 1), during a recent interview with the Business Journal.

“Digital Motors is in the business of changing that.”

The technology-powered platform, which is expected to launch publicly next year, is designed to integrate with any dealer-operated website. It offers a highly customizable “holistic, end-to-end buying experience” that allows consumers to browse cars, structure monthly payments, and go as deep into the car-buying process as they wish online.

From there, consumers can opt to go into the dealership for a test drive, or select delivery straight to their doorstep.

Hinrichs hinted that the platform is “very scalable” and will allow Digital Motors to install a new online storefront in less than an hour.

The company, founded last year, has had revenue since day one, according to Hinrichs, though he declined to disclose its means of monetization or revenue numbers.

Auto Aligned

A recently announced partnership with Jonathan “Jon” Gray, owner and president of Costa Mesa’s Orange Coast Auto Group, one of the largest Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram dealerships in the U.S., is “at the highest level” relevant to the business and its final product testing stages, according to Hinrichs.

“It’s important to clue dealers in early during the product development process to enhance business with dealers,” he said.

By working hand-in-hand with Gray, who has personally invested in the company and come onboard as a chief strategist and adviser, Digital Motors is well-positioned to fine tune its platform before its public unveiling next year, according to Hinrichs.

Gray said in a statement that “Digital Motors is on the forefront of enabling dealerships with cutting-edge solutions that drive efficiency, improve margins, and increase customer satisfaction.”

Orange Coast Auto bills itself as being among the top 5% of Fiat Chrysler Automobile dealerships nationally, but isn’t included in this week’s list of top area dealers because it didn’t report sales figures.

Hinrichs declined to comment further on the startup’s funding beyond Gray’s investment, though he characterized the new venture as a “closely held private company.”

The company is also busy establishing relationships with the same financial lenders that dealers often work with in order to offer leasing and financing options through the online platform powered by Digital Motors, he said.

Industry Disruptors

Hinrichs isn’t new to bringing technological advances to the sales side of the auto industry, and neither is co-founder Nick Stellman, chief operating officer at Digital Motors.

Hinrichs and Stellman launched Irvine-based AutoGravity in 2016, and quickly raised some $80 million in funding, making it one of OC’s fastest-growing fintech firms. Both previously worked for the financial services division of Daimler AG, a large investor in AutoGravity.

The duo and others, including AutoGravity Chief Technology Officer Sheng Wang, left last May; the trio formed Digital Motors last July. Wang left Digital Motors earlier this year for undisclosed reasons.

Hinrichs was a Business Journal Excellence in Entrepreneurship award winner last year, while Wang was a Women in Business award winner that year as well.

Since their departure, AutoGravity has continued its push into consumer retail services under new leadership, helmed by Chief Executive Alex Mallmann.

Hinrichs declined to comment on the nature of the departures from AutoGravity, as well as Wang’s exit from the upstart. But he said that after taking some time off, he recognized a “huge void” in the market because the traditional ecosystem of car dealers, lenders and others does not allow customers to transact online.

“That’s the space Digital Motors is now occupying,” said Hinrichs. “When [dealers] sign up, what they get is a transactable, penny perfect payment.”

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