SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION
Washington, D.C. 20549
REGISTRATION STATEMENT PURSUANT TO SECTION 12(b) OR (g) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
ANNUAL REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
For the fiscal year ended
TRANSITION REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
SHELL COMPANY REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
Date of event requiring this shell company report _______________________
For the transition period from _________________ to _______________________
Commission file number
(Exact name of Registrant as specified in its charter)
(Translation of Registrant’s name into English)
(Jurisdiction of incorporation or organization)
(Address of principal executive offices)
Chief Financial Officer
Kaixin Auto Holdings
(Name, Telephone, E-mail and/or Facsimile number and Address of Company Contact Person)
Securities registered or to be registered pursuant to Section 12(b) of the Act:
Title of each class
Name of each exchange on which registered
Securities registered or to be registered pursuant to Section 12(g) of the Act:
(Title of Class)
Securities for which there is a reporting obligation pursuant to Section 15(d) of the Act:
(Title of Class)
Indicate the number of outstanding shares of each of the issuer’s classes of capital or common stock as of the close of the period covered by the annual report.
As of December 31, 2020, there were
Indicate by check mark if the registrant is a well-known seasoned issuer, as defined in Rule 405 of the Securities Act. Yes ◻
If this report is an annual or transition report, indicate by check mark if the registrant is not required to file reports pursuant to Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. Yes ◻
Note – Checking the box above will not relieve any registrant required to file reports pursuant to Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 from their obligations under those Sections.
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant (1) has filed all reports required to be filed by Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to file such reports), and (2) has been subject to such filing requirements for the past 90 days. Yes ◻
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has submitted electronically every Interactive Data File required to be submitted pursuant to Rule 405 of Regulation S-T (§ 232.405 of this chapter) during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to submit such files).
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a large accelerated filer, an accelerated filer, a non-accelerated filer or an emerging growth company. See the definitions of “large accelerated filer,” “accelerated filer” and “emerging growth company” in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act.
Large accelerated filer ◻
Non-accelerated filer ◻
Emerging growth company
If an emerging growth company that prepares its financial statements in accordance with U.S. GAAP, indicate by check mark if the registrant has elected not to use the extended transition period for complying with any new or revised financial accounting standards† provided pursuant to Section 13(a) of the Exchange Act.
† The term “new or revised financial accounting standard” refers to any update issued by the Financial Accounting Standards Board to its Accounting Standards Codification after April 5, 2012.
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has filed a report on and attestation to its management’s assessment of the effectiveness of its internal control over financial reporting under Section 404(b) of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (15 U.S.C. 7262(b)) by the registered public accounting firm that prepared or issued its audit report. ◻
Indicate by check mark which basis of accounting the registrant has used to prepare the financial statements included in this filing:
International Financial Reporting Standards
If “Other” has been checked in response to the previous question, indicate by check mark which financial statement item the registrant has elected to follow. ◻ Item 17 ◻ Item 18
If this is an annual report, indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a shell company (as defined in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act). Yes ◻ No
(APPLICABLE ONLY TO ISSUERS INVOLVED IN BANKRUPTCY PROCEEDINGS DURING THE PAST FIVE YEARS)
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has filed all documents and reports required to be filed by Sections 12, 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 subsequent to the distribution of securities under a plan confirmed by a court. Yes ◻ No ◻
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Conventions Used in this Annual Report
In this annual report, unless otherwise indicated or the context otherwise requires, references to:
“Business Combination” are the transactions contemplated by the share exchange agreement dated as of November 2, 2018 by and among CM Seven Star Acquisition Corporation, KAG and Renren, pursuant to which we acquired 100% of the equity interests of KAG from Renren on April 30, 2019;
“CAGR” are to compound annual growth rate;
“car parc” are to the total number of light vehicles, including cars, sport utility vehicles and light trucks in a region or market at a specific point in time;
“China” or the “PRC” are to the People’s Republic of China, excluding, for the purposes of this annual report only, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan;
“Dealerships” are to our dealership businesses operated by special purpose holding companies in which we possess majority ownership and voting control;
“Dealership Outlets” are to retail premises operated by our Dealerships;
|●||“Haitaoche” are to Haitaoche Limited;|
|●||“Haitaoche Acquisition” are to the transaction contemplated by the share purchase agreement entered into between Kaixin and Haitaoche on December 31, 2020 pursuant to which Kaixin agrees to issue to shareholders of Haitaoche an aggregate of 74,035,502 ordinary shares of Kaixin in exchange of 100% share capital of Haitaoche;|
“KAG” are to Kaixin Auto Group, our wholly-owned subsidiary acquired from Renren;
“Kaixin,” “we,” “us,” “our company” or “our” are to Kaixin Auto Holdings, our Cayman Islands holding company, and its subsidiaries and consolidated affliated entities;
“Kaixin Affiliated Network Dealers” are to other in-network dealers who provide automobile inventory to our Dealerships and which are marketed pursuant to profit-sharing arrangements with us;
“other in-network dealers” are to other dealerships with which we have commercial relationships, including consumer financing referrals, or who are users of our Dealer SaaS platform;
“RMB” or “Renminbi” are to the legal currency of China;
“Shanghai Auto” are to Shanghai Renren Automotive Technology Group Co., Ltd., our wholly-owned PRC subsidiary;
“SaaS” are to “software-as-a-service”;
“US$,” “U.S. dollars,” “$,” or “dollars” are to the legal currency of the United States;
“U.S. GAAP” are to accounting principles generally accepted in the United States; and
“variable interest entity” or “VIE” are to our variable interest entities, Shanghai Qianxiang Changda Internet Information Technologies Development Co., Ltd., or Qianxiang Changda, and Shanghai Jieying Auto Retail Co., Ltd., or Shanghai Jieying, which are 100% owned by PRC citizens and a PRC entity owned by PRC citizens, and are consolidated into our consolidated financial statements in accordance with U.S. GAAP as if they were our wholly-owned subsidiaries.
Our reporting currency is the U.S. dollar. This annual report contains translations of Renminbi amounts into U.S. dollars at specific rates solely for the convenience of the reader. The conversion of Renminbi into U.S. dollars in this annual report is based on the rate certified for customs purposes by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Unless otherwise noted, all translations from Renminbi to U.S. dollars and from U.S. dollars to Renminbi in this annual report were made at a rate of RMB6.525 to US$1.00, the noon buying rate in effect as of December 31, 2020 set forth in the H.10 statistical release of the U.S. Federal Reserve Board. We make no representation that any Renminbi or U.S. dollar amounts could have been, or could be, converted into U.S. dollars or Renminbi, as the case may be, at any particular rate, the rates stated below, or at all.
Special Note Regarding Forward-Looking Statements
This annual report contains forward-looking statements that reflect our current expectations and views of future events. These forward looking statements are made under the “safe-harbor” provisions of the U.S. Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors, including those listed under “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors,” may cause our actual results, performance or achievements to be materially different from those expressed or implied by the forward-looking statements. These statements involve known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors that may cause our actual results, performance or achievements to be materially different from those expressed or implied by the forward-looking statements.
You can identify these forward-looking statements by words or phrases such as “may,” “will,” “expect,” “anticipate,” “aim,” “estimate,” “intend,” “plan,” “believe,” “likely to,” “potential,” “continue” or other similar expressions. We have based these forward-looking statements largely on our current expectations and projections about future events and financial trends that we believe may affect our financial condition, results of operations, business strategy and financial needs. These forward-looking statements include, but are not limited to, statements about:
our goals and strategies;
our future business development, financial conditions and results of operations;
the expected growth of the PRC used car and related industries;
our expectations regarding the demand for and market acceptance of our products and services;
our expectations regarding our relationships with distributors, customers, suppliers, strategic partners and other stakeholders;
competition in our industry;
relevant government policies and regulations relating to our industry; and
assumptions underlying or related to any of the foregoing.
These forward-looking statements involve various risks and uncertainties. Although we believe that our expectations expressed in these forward-looking statements are reasonable, our expectations may later be found to be incorrect. Our actual results could be materially different from our expectations. Other sections of this annual report include additional factors that could adversely impact our business and financial performance. Moreover, we operate in an evolving environment. New risk factors and uncertainties emerge from time to time and it is not possible for our management to predict all risk factors and uncertainties, nor can we assess the impact of all factors on our business or the extent to which any factor, or combination of factors, may cause actual results to differ materially from those contained in any forward-looking statements. You should read thoroughly this annual report and the documents that we refer to with the understanding that our actual future results may be materially different from, or worse than, what we expect. We qualify all of our forward-looking statements by these cautionary statements.
This annual report contains certain data and information that we obtained from various government and private publications. Statistical data in these publications also include projections based on a number of assumptions. The PRC used car industry may not grow at the rate projected by market data, or at all. Failure of this market to grow at the projected rate may have a material adverse effect on our business and the market price of our ordinary shares. Furthermore, if any one or more of the assumptions underlying the market data are later found to be incorrect, actual results may differ from the projections based on these assumptions. You should not place undue reliance on these forward-looking statements.
ITEM 1. IDENTITY OF DIRECTORS, SENIOR MANAGEMENT AND ADVISERS
ITEM 2. OFFER STATISTICS AND EXPECTED TIMETABLE
ITEM 3. KEY INFORMATION
Selected Financial Data
The following selected consolidated statement of operations data for the years ended December 31, 2018, 2019 and 2020 and selected consolidated balance sheet data as of December 31, 2019 and 2020 have been derived from our audited consolidated financial statements included in this annual report beginning on page F-1. The following selected consolidated statements of operations data for the year ended December 31, 2017 have been derived from our audited consolidated financial statements not included in this annual report. Selected financial data for the year ended and as of December 31, 2016 have not been presented as these cannot be provided without unreasonable effort or expense. Our historical results for any periods are not necessarily indicative of results to be expected for any future period. The selected consolidated financial data should be read in conjunction with, and are qualified in their entirety by reference to, our audited consolidated financial statements and related note and “Item 5. Operating and Financial Review and Prospects” below. Our consolidated financial statements are prepared and presented in accordance with U.S. GAAP.
The following table presents our selected consolidated statement of operations data for the years indicated:
For the Year Ended December 31,
(in thousands of US$)
Total cost of revenues
Gross profit (loss)
Selling and marketing
Research and development
General and administrative
Recoverable of detained and impaired assets
Impairment of goodwill
Total operating expenses
Loss from operations
Other (expenses) income
Fair value change of contingent consideration
Loss before provision of income tax and noncontrolling interest
Income tax (expenses) benefit
Loss from continuing operations
Income (loss) from discontinued operations
Weighted average number of ordinary shares outstanding used in computing net loss per ordinary share – basic and diluted
Net loss per share attributable to Kaixin Auto Holdings’ shareholders – basic and diluted:
Loss per share from continuing operations
Income (loss) per share from discontinued operations
Net loss per share attributable to Kaixin Auto Holdings’ shareholders - basic and diluted
Note: Discontinued Operations refers to the effects of disposal of Renren Fenqi business in May 2016.
The following table presents our selected consolidated balance sheet data as of the dates indicated:
As of December 31,
(in thousands of US$)
Total current assets
Total current liabilities
Total Kaixin Auto Holdings shareholders’ equity (deficit)
Total equity (deficit)
Total liabilities and equity (deficit)
Capitalization and indebtedness.
Reasons for the offer and use of proceeds.
Risks Related to Our Business and Industry
We have a history of losses and negative cash flows from operating activities, and we may not achieve or maintain profitability in the future.
We had not been profitable since the inception of KAG, the operating entity we acquired in April 2019. We incurred net losses of US89.5 million, US$69.1 million and US$5.3 million in 2018, 2019 and 2020, respectively. We also had negative cash flows from operating activities of US$9.7 million, US$4.7 million and US$3.9 million in 2018, 2019 and 2020, respectively. In addition, after the acquisition of KAG, we incur significantly greater legal, accounting and other expenses than we incurred as a blank check company and KAG incurred as a subsidiary of Renren. As a result of these increased expenditures, we will have to generate and sustain increased revenues and contain costs to achieve profitability.
We have experienced recurring losses from operations. As of December 31, 2020, we had an accumulated deficit of US$197.5 million.
We expect that we will continue to incur losses at least in the near term as we invest in and strive to grow our business. We may also incur significant losses in the future for a number of reasons, including possible changes in general economic conditions and regulatory environment, slowing demand for used and new cars and related products and services, increasing competitions, weakness in the automotive retail industry generally, as well as other risks described in this annual report, and we may encounter unforeseen expenses, difficulties, complications and delays in generating revenues or profitability. Our revenue declined from 2018 to 2020, and if this trend continues, we may not be able to reduce costs to a level to make our operations profitable. In addition, if we reduce variable costs to respond to losses, this may limit our ability to acquire customers and grow our revenues. Accordingly, we may not achieve or maintain profitability and may continue to incur significant losses in the future.
We have a limited operating history in the automobile sales business. Our historical financial and operating performance may not be indicative of, or comparable to, its future prospects and results of operations.
Although KAG was formed in 2011, it has changed its business model significantly since its initial launch. KAG began as primarily an internet-based financing business and, by that time it was acquired by us, had developed into a used car retailer with strong online and offline presence.
As a result, our business model has not been fully proven, and we have only a limited operating history with our new business model against which to evaluate our business and future prospects, which subjects us to a number of uncertainties. Accordingly, our historical financial results should not be considered indicative of our future performance and may be less comparable to financial results for future periods.
Additionally, we have limited experiences in most aspects of our business operations, including online/offline auto sales operations, financing facilitation and other value-added services and the development of long-term relationships with platform participants, such as dealers, financial institutions and car buyers. We have encountered and will continue to encounter risks and difficulties frequently experienced by growing companies in rapidly changing industries, including achieving market acceptance of our platform, attracting and retaining customers, expanding our partnerships and the scope of our platform, increasing competitions, and increasing expenses as we continue to grow our business. We cannot assure you that we will be successful in addressing these and other challenges that we may face in the future, and if we do not manage these risks successfully, our business may be adversely affected. In addition, we may not achieve sufficient revenues or maintain positive cash flows from operations or profitability in any given periods. If our assumptions regarding these risks and uncertainties which we use to plan our business are incorrect, or if we do not address these risks successfully, our operating and financial results could differ materially from our expectations, and our business could suffer.
The laws and regulations governing the auto industry in the PRC are still at a nascent stage and subject to further changes and interpretations. As the market, the regulatory environment and other conditions evolve, our existing solutions and services may not continue to deliver the expected business results. As our business develops and responds to competition, we may continue to introduce new services or make adjustments to our existing services, business model or operations in general. Our ability to retain Dealerships, financial institutions, customers and other platform participants and to attract new platform participants are also critical to our business. Any significant changes to our business model or failure to achieve the intended business results may have a material and adverse impact on our financial condition and results of operations. Therefore, it may be difficult to effectively assess our future prospects.
We may not be able to reverse the recent decline in its revenues.
Our revenues decreased from US$431.4 million in 2018 to US$334.7 million in 2019, and further significantly decreased to US$33.2 million in 2020, partially attributable to the significant negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our operations and the halt in our car sales operations since summer 2020. Even if our revenues increase in the future, our rate of growth may never achieve the same level as the past. We will not be able to grow as fast or at all if we do not:
increase the number of users on our mobile apps and websites and increase the number of customers of our used auto sales business;
further improve the quality of our product and service offerings, features and complementary products and services, and introduce high-quality new products, services and features;
introduce additional third-party products and services; or
acquire sufficient appropriate inventory at an attractive cost and high quality to meet the increasing demand for our vehicles.
There can be no assurance that we will meet these objectives. We expect to continue to expend substantial financial and other resources on :
marketing and advertising;
expansion of our vehicle inventory; and
general administration, including legal, accounting and other compliance expenses.
Our business is relatively new and has operated at substantial scale for only a limited period of time. Given this limited history, it is difficult to predict whether we will be able to grow our business. We also expect that our business will evolve in ways that may be difficult to predict. For example, over time our investments intended to drive new customer traffic to our website may be less productive than expected. In the event of this or any other adverse developments, our continued success will depend on our ability to successfully adjust our strategies to meet changing market dynamics. If we are unable to do so, our business could be harmed and our results of operations and financial condition could be materially and adversely affected.
Our Dealerships conduct various aspects of our business, and we face risks associated with our Dealerships, their employees and other personnel.
We rely on our Dealerships to conduct significant aspects of our business. As of December 31, 2020, we had 14 Dealerships. Our control over our Dealerships may not be as effective as if we fully owned these partners’ businesses, which could potentially make it difficult for us to manage them.
Our Dealerships and their employees directly interact with consumers, other dealerships and other platform participants, and their performance directly affects our reputation and brand image. If our service personnel or those of our Dealerships fail to satisfy the needs of the consumers, respond effectively to their complaints, or provide services to their satisfaction, our reputation and the customers’ loyalty could be negatively affected. As a result, we may lose customers or experience a decline in business volume, which could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations. We do not directly supervise the services provided by our Dealerships and their personnel and may not be able to successfully maintain and improve the quality of their services. Dealerships may also fail to implement sufficient control over their sales, maintenance and other personnel. In addition, we have developed a Kaixin Affiliated Network Dealer model pursuant to which we source and market the used cars in our Dealerships under profit-sharing arrangements with third parties who provide these vehicles to us. We have little control over the actions of these Kaixin Affiliated Network Dealers, and their failure to comply with any laws or ethical business practices may harm our reputation or results of operations. As a result of the conduct of Dealerships or Kaixin Affiliated Network Dealers, we may suffer financial losses, incur liabilities and suffer reputational damage. In addition, while violation of laws and regulations by Dealerships and Kaixin Affiliated Network Dealers has not led to any material claims against us in the past, there can be no assurance that such a claim will not arise in the future which may harm our brand or reputation or have other adverse impacts.
Further, suspension or termination of a Dealership’s or a Dealership Outlet’s services in a particular geographic area may cause interruption to or failure in our services in the corresponding geographic area. A Dealership operator may suspend or terminate his or her services or cooperation with us for various reasons, many of which are outside our control. For example, due to the intense competition in our industry, existing Dealerships may choose to discontinue their cooperation with us and work with our competitors instead. We may not be able to promptly replace our Dealerships or find alternative ways to serve their geographic areas in a timely, reliable and cost-effective manner, or at all. As a result of any service disruptions associated with Dealerships, our customers’ satisfaction, brand, reputation, operations and financial performance may be materially and adversely affected.
During 2019 and 2020, due to disagreements with certain non-controlling shareholders on operational matters, some non-controlling shareholders illegally detained our inventories in our Dealerships and significant uncertainty arose on the realizability and collectability of the prepayments to purchase used cars for these Dealerships and amounts due from these non-controlling shareholders. As a result, we wrote down $17.8 million inventory, and wrote off US$22.3 million prepayments for the year ended December 31, 2019. By early 2021, we have reached agreement to resume used car business operations with a majority of the non-controlling shareholders. We are in the process of negotiating with the remaining non-controlling shareholders and may initiate legal proceedings where necessary. If these disputes cannot be resolved in our favor, our business and results of operations will be materially and adversely affected.
We may not be able to successfully expand or maintain our network of Dealerships.
As of December 31, 2020, we had a network of 14 Dealerships. We have not expanded our network since May 2018. Our Dealership network is a foundation of our platform, and we rely on our Dealerships in providing services to car buyers and financial institutions. As China is a large and diverse market, business practices and demands may vary significantly by regions and our experience in the markets in which we currently operate may not be applicable in other parts of China. As a result, we may not be able to leverage our experience to expand our Dealership network into other parts of China.
Further, we may have difficulties in managing our relationships with our Dealership operators once they have earned the share payouts to which they are entitled. Pursuant to our equity purchase agreements with the Dealership operators, they are entitled to payment of consideration in our ordinary shares based on the Dealerships’ performance over five 12-month performance benchmark periods. Following the completion of these performance benchmark periods, we may need to enter into new arrangements with our Dealership operators in order to strengthen our relationships with them and incentivize their performance or begin to directly operate our Dealerships, notwithstanding our ownership and operational control over our Dealerships. For additional information, please see “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Certain Legal Arrangements—Legal Arrangements with Dealerships.”
Our Dealership may collaborate with other dealers in the future, which could take actions that harm our business and our Dealerships.
We currently own all existing Dealership Outlets. However, we may in the future permit Dealership operators to develop and operate other Dealership Outlets in their designated geographic areas in collaboration with other unrelated third parties. In such event, certain Dealership operators may elect to cooperate with other third parties to develop and operate Dealership Outlets in the geographic area covered by the relevant agreement. Although our existing Dealership agreements contractually obligate Dealerships to operate in accordance with specified standards, including synchronization of their operations with the wider Kaixin platform and integration with our Dealer SaaS system, we may not be a party to any agreements between Dealership operators and third-party partners. As a result, we would be dependent upon Dealership operators to enforce these standards with respect to these additional dealerships and more broadly, to ensure their success. As a result, we depend on the Dealership operators for the ultimate success and quality of any additional locations. If any such additional Dealership Outlets are not successfully operated in a manner which is consistent with the standards required by us, their performance, the performance of our Dealerships and ultimately, our performance, could be adversely affected and our brand image and reputation may be harmed, which could materially and adversely affect our business and operating results.
Any difficulties in identifying, consummating and integrating acquisitions, investments or alliances may expose us to potential risks and have an adverse effect on our business, results of operations or financial condition.
We have in the past made and may in the future seek to make acquisitions and investments and enter into strategic alliances to further expand our business. If presented with appropriate opportunities, we may acquire additional businesses, services, resources, or assets, including auto dealerships, that are accretive to our core business. For example, on December 31, 2020 we entered into definitive agreement pursuant to the Haitaoche Acquisition which we expect to consummate in the first half of 2021. There can be no assurance that we will always be able to complete such acquisitions successfully or on terms acceptable to us. Integration of acquired entities or assets into our business may not be successful and may prevent us from expanding into new services, customer segments or operating locations. This could significantly affect the expected benefits of these acquisitions. Moreover, the integration of any acquired entities or assets into our operations could require significant attention from our management. The diversion of the attention of our management and any difficulties encountered in the integration process could have an adverse effect on our ability to manage our business.
Our possible future acquisitions of auto dealerships, other acquisitions, investments or strategic alliances may also expose us to other potential risks, including but not limited to:
|●||risks associated with unforeseen or hidden liabilities which we failed to identify in our pre-acquisition due diligence;|
|●||the diversion of resources from our existing businesses and technologies;|
|●||our inability to generate sufficient revenues to offset the costs, expenses of acquisitions;|
|●||we may not be able to integrate newly-acquired businesses and operations in an efficient and cost-effective manner; and|
|●||potential loss of, or harm to, relationships with Dealerships, employees, customers as a result of our integration of new businesses.|
In addition, we may recognize impairment losses on goodwill arising from our acquisitions. The occurrence of any of these events could have a material and adverse effect on our ability to manage our business, financial condition and results of operations.
The quality of the premium used automobiles that we offer is critical to the success of our business.
We offer a wide selection of premium used cars for sale at our Dealerships. We have implemented high standards for the used car inventory that we offer for sale and only the vehicles that pass our thorough inspection process consisting of over 140 steps are offer for sale. We do not offer for sale the vehicles in poor condition or vehicles with a history of accidents, water or fire damage, extensive mileage or other unacceptable attributes. However, there can be no assurance that these inspections and other measures will be effective, and there is a risk that the vehicles offered for sale on our platform could have defects. As a result, we and our Dealerships are exposed to product liability claims relating to personal injury or property damage and may require product recalls or other actions. Third parties subject to such injury or damage may bring claims or legal proceedings against us or our Dealerships as a result of the sale of such products.
In addition, we have developed a Kaixin Affiliated Network Dealer model pursuant to which we source and market used cars at Dealerships under profit-sharing arrangements with third parties who provide these vehicles. Although we screen and recondition these vehicles according to the same procedures that we apply to our other used vehicles, we may have less control of the inventory sourced through this model and face risks related to the activities of Kaixin Affiliated Network Dealers with whom we cooperate. Any defects in the used or new cars we offer for sale, whether or not they are actually sold to the customers, could have a material and adverse impact on our reputation, results of operation and financial condition.
Our success depends upon the continued contributions of our sales representatives.
Our sales representatives, who are primarily employed by our Dealerships, are a driving force of our success. We believe that one factor that distinguishes us from other competitors is our culture centered on valuing all sales representatives. Any failure to maintain this culture or to continue recruiting, developing and retaining the sales representatives that drive our success could have a material adverse effect on our business, sales and results of operations. We also face risks related to the loyalty of our sales representatives. Referrals of leads by sales representatives to friends or others in side deals is a common phenomenon in our industry in China, and if our sales representatives seek to profit themselves personally at the expenses of us, that could hurt our business and results of operations. Our ability to recruit sales representatives while controlling related costs is subject to numerous external and internal factors, including but not limited to, the unemployment levels, prevailing wage rates, growth plans, changes in employment legislation, and competition for qualified employees in the industry and regions in which we operate. This competition is especially fierce for qualified service technicians. Our ability to recruit sales representatives while controlling related costs is also subject to our ability to maintain positive employee relations. If we are unable to do so, or if, despite our efforts, becomes subject to successful unionization efforts, it could increase costs, limit our ability to respond to competitive threats and have a material adverse effect on our business, sales and results of operations.
Our success also depends upon the continued contributions of our Dealerships and our regional and corporate management teams. Consequently, the loss of the services of any key personnel could have a material adverse effect on our business, sales and results of operations. In addition, an inability to build our management bench strength to support business growth could have a material adverse effect on our business prospects, sales and results of operations.
We rely on a limited number of financial institutions to fund the consumer auto financing transactions that we facilitate, and any adverse changes in our relationships with such financial institutions may materially and adversely impact our business and results of operations.
We rely on a limited number of financial institutions to fund financing transactions to car buyers. Loans from Ping An Bank accounted for a majority of the loans we facilitated to consumers through our consumer auto loan financing facilitation business in 2019. Our cooperation agreement with Ping An Bank expired on June 30, 2020, and there is no current plan to renew the agreement in the near term. We need to locate another financial institution to fill in the void of Ping An Bank. The availability of funding from financial institutions depends on many factors, some of which are out of our control. Customers who enter into financing arrangements may fail to effectively pledge their purchased cars as collateral in connection with the financing arrangements. In addition, delinquencies by our customers may also cause financing partners to limit or terminate their relationships with us. For further information as to our arrangements with these financial institutions, see “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Certain Legal Arrangements—Legal Arrangements with Financial Institutions.” There can be no assurance that we will be able to rely on such funding arrangements in the future or that we would be able to replace our financing partners in the event that they cease their relationship with us. Although we continue to identify new financial institutions to collaborate with, there can be no assurance that we will be able to diversify the financial institutions that we collaborate with in the future. Given our current dependence on a relatively small number of financial institutions, if our relationship with any such institution or their channel partners deteriorates, if any such financial institution determines not to collaborate with us or limits the funding that is available for financing transactions facilitated by us, or if any such financial institution encounters liquidity issues in general, our business, financial condition and results of operations may be materially and adversely affected.
Further, financing institutions that we work with can significantly influence the terms of our consumer auto finance loans, including the interest rates, term and collateral provisions, and we have little influence over these terms. In order to maintain and foster our cooperation with financing institutions, we may have to accommodate demands that they may impose on us in the future. Such demands and requirements may increase our costs, weaken our connection with the customers, or even be disruptive to our existing auto loan financing facilitation business. In addition, the financing institutions that we work with also cooperate with certain of our competitors and, as a result, may have adverse or conflicting interests with us, which could harm our business, materially and adversely affect our results of operations.
In addition, our ability to collaborate with financial institutions may become subject to new regulatory limitations, as the laws and regulations governing the automotive finance industry in the PRC continue to evolve. In the event there is a sudden or unexpected shortage of funds from financial institutions that we collaborate with or if they experience disruptions to their operations for any reasons, our ability to serve car buyers will be adversely affected. We may from time to time experience constraints as to the availability of funds from financial institutions, especially as our business continues to grow and the need for funding increases. Such constraints may affect user experience, including by limiting the approval of customers’ credit applications. Such limitations may also restrain the growth of our business. Any prolonged constraint as to the availability of funds from financial institutions may also harm our reputation or result in negative perception of the services which we offer, thereby lowering the willingness of prospective car buyers to seek automotive financing solutions offered by our partners or the willingness of dealers and other platform participants to collaborate with us.
We may need additional capital to pursue our business objectives and respond to business opportunities, challenges or unforeseen circumstances, and financing may not be available on terms acceptable to us, or at all.
KAG has historically relied on Renren, our controlling shareholder and KAG’s former parent company, to support its operations, the expansion of its Dealerships and the growth of its business. We have also relied on certain third party financing sources, including financial institutions. As we intend to continue to make investments to support the growth of our business, we may require additional capital to pursue our business objectives and respond to business opportunities, challenges or unforeseen circumstances, for instance, increasing the number of cars that we sell, developing new solutions and services, increasing our sales and marketing expenditures to improve brand awareness and engage car buyers through expanded online channels, enhancing our operating infrastructure and acquiring complementary businesses and technologies. However, additional funds may not be readily available on terms that are acceptable to us, or at all. Repayment of debt may divert a substantial portion of cash flow to repay principal and service interest on such debt, which would reduce the funds available for expenses, capital expenditures, acquisitions and other general corporate purposes; and we may suffer default and foreclosure on our assets if our operating cash flow is insufficient to service debt obligations, thus result in the acceleration of obligations to repay the indebtedness and limit our sources of financing.
Volatility in the credit markets may also have an adverse effect on our ability to obtain debt financing. If we raise additional funds through further issuances of equity or convertible debt securities, our existing shareholders could suffer significant dilution, and any new equity securities that we issue could have rights, preferences and privileges superior to those holders of our ordinary shares. If we are unable to obtain adequate financing or financing on terms satisfactory to us when we require it, our ability to continue to pursue our business objectives, fund our Dealerships and respond to business opportunities, challenges or unforeseen circumstances could be significantly limited, and our business, financial condition, results of operations and prospects could be adversely affected.
We operate in a highly competitive industry. Failure to develop and execute strategies to maintain our market position and to adapt to the increasing use of the internet to market, buy, sell and finance used vehicles could adversely affect our business, sales and results of operations.
Automotive retailing is a highly competitive and highly fragmented industry in China. Our competitors include publicly and privately owned used and new car dealers, online and mobile sales platforms, as well as millions of private individuals. Competitors buy and sell the same or similar makes of vehicles that we offer in the same or similar markets at competitive prices.
Retail Competition. Some of our competitors have announced plans for rapid expansion, including into markets where we operate, and some of them have begun to execute those plans. If we fail to respond effectively to our retail competitors, it could have a material adverse effect on our business, sales and results of operations.
Online Sales and Facilitation. Although mobile apps and online marketing are important to our own business model, our competitors’ increasing use of the internet to market, buy and sell used vehicles and to provide vehicle financing could have a material adverse effect on our sales and results of operations. Emerging competitors using online focused business models, both for direct sales and consumer-to-consumer facilitation, could materially impact our current business model. The online availability of used vehicle information from other sources, including pricing information, could make it more difficult for us to differentiate our offerings from competitors’ offerings, could result in lower-than-expected retail margins, and could have a material adverse effect on our business, sales and results of operations. In addition, our competitive standing is affected by companies, including search engines and online classified sites, that are not direct competitors but that may direct online traffic to the websites of competing automotive retailers. The increasing activities of these companies could make it more difficult for us to attract users to our mobile app. These companies could also make it more difficult for us to otherwise market our vehicles online.
The increasing use of the internet to facilitate consumers’ purchases and sales of their current vehicles could have a material adverse effect on our ability to source vehicles, which in turn could have a material adverse effect on our vehicle acquisition costs and results of operations. For example, certain websites provide online appraisal tools to consumers that generate offers and facilitate purchases by dealers other than us.
In addition to the direct competition and increasing use of the internet described above, there are companies that sell software and data solutions to used and new car dealers to enable those dealers to, among other things, more efficiently source and price inventory. Although these companies do not compete with us, the increasing use of such products by dealers who compete with us could reduce the relative competitive advantage of our internally developed proprietary systems.
If we fail to respond effectively to competitive pressures or to changes in the used vehicle marketplace, it could have a material adverse effect on our business, sales and results of operations.
We operate in an evolving and fast-changing market.
The PRC automotive retail market, including the consumer automotive finance market, is highly dynamic and is at an early stage of development. While it has undergone significant growth in the past few years, there is no assurance that it can continue to grow rapidly. As part of our business, we offer retail auto sales of premium used vehicles, financing, including consumer loans provided by our financing partners, automobile insurance providers and value-added services to various participants in the automotive transaction value chain, including dealers, financial institutions, car buyers, service providers and other industry participants. Helping more industry participants to recognize the value of our services in a rapidly-evolving market is critical to increasing the number and amount of used cars and other transactions that we complete and to the success of our business.
You should consider our business and prospects in light of the risks and challenges we encounter or may encounter given the rapidly-evolving market in which we operate and our limited operating history. These risks and challenges include our ability to, among other things:
source, market and sell used and new automobiles in substantial volumes and on favorable terms;
effectively manage and expand our network of Dealerships;
facilitate automotive financing to a growing number of car buyers;
maintain and enhance our relationships and business collaboration with dealers, financial institutions and other platform participants;
charge competitive service fees to platform participants while driving the growth and profitability of our business;
improve our operational efficiency;
attract, retain and motivate talented employees, particularly sales and marketing and technology personnel to support our business growth;
adapt to technological changes, such as the development of autonomous vehicles, new products and services, new business models and new methods of travel;
enhance our technology infrastructure to support the growth of our business and maintain the security of our system and the confidentiality of the information provided and collected across our system;
navigate economic conditions and fluctuations in the pandemic environment;
implement our business strategies, including the offering of new services; and
defend ourselves against legal and regulatory actions, such as actions involving intellectual property or data privacy claims.
If we are unable to adapt to any of these factors in the rapidly-evolving market, our business, performance and results of operations could suffer.
Our success depends on our ability to attract prospective car buyers.
The growth of our business depends on our ability to attract prospective car buyers. We primarily purchase car models that we believe are reliable, reasonably priced and appealing to car buyers in lower-tier cities. We price cars based on insights derived from automotive transaction data associated with the facilitation of automotive financing solutions as well as data from other automotive transactions. We have limited experiences in the purchase of cars for sale, and there is no assurance that we will be able to do so effectively. Demand for the type of cars that we purchase can change significantly between the time the cars are purchased and the time of sale. In addition, the models offered by our Dealerships may not be popular among prospective car buyers, which could materially and adversely affect our business, results of operations and financial condition. Demand may be affected by new car launches, changes in the pricing of such cars, defects, changes in consumer preference and other factors. We may also need to adopt more aggressive pricing strategies for the cars we purchase than originally anticipated to stoke consumer demand. We face inventory risk in connection with the cars purchased, including the risk of inventory obsolescence, decline in value, and significant inventory write-downs or write-offs. If we were to adopt more aggressive pricing strategies, our profit margin may be negatively affected as well. We may also face increasing costs associated with the storage of inventory. Any of the above may materially and adversely affect our financial condition and results of operations.
In order to expand our base of car buyers, we must continue to invest significant resources in the development of new solutions and services and build our relationships with financial institutions, auto dealers and other platform participants. Our ability to successfully launch, operate and expand our solutions and services and to improve user experience to attract prospective car buyers depends on many factors, including our ability to anticipate and effectively respond to the changing interests and preferences of car buyers, anticipate and respond to changes in the competitive landscape, and develop and offer solutions and services that address the needs of car buyers on our platform. If our efforts in these regards are unsuccessful, our base of car buyers may not expand at the rate which we anticipated, and it may even shrink. As a result, our business, prospects, financial condition and results of operations may be materially and adversely affected.
In addition, in order to attract prospective car buyers, we must also devote significant resources to enhancing the experience of car buyers on our platform on an ongoing basis. We must enhance the functionality and ensure the reliability of our platform. If we fail to provide superior customer service or address complaints of car buyers on our platform in a timely manner, we may fail to attract prospective car buyers to use our solutions and services, and the number of financing transactions that we facilitate may decline.
In the meantime, we also seek to maintain our relationships with existing car buyers and cross-sell new solutions and services, such as insurance and wealth management products. However, there can be no assurance that we will be able to maintain or deepen such relationships.
The growth of our business relies on our branding efforts and these efforts may not be successful.
Our Kaixin Auto brand was newly launched in the first half of 2018 and we believe that an important component of our growth will be the growth of visitors to our website and Dealerships. Because Kaixin Auto is a consumer brand, brand visibility is critical for our engagement with potential customers. We currently advertise through a blend of brand and direct marketing channels with the goal of increasing the strength, recognition and trust in the Kaixin Auto brand. We recorded selling and marketing expenses of approximately US$24.1 million, US$14.4 million and US$2.6 million in 2018, 2019 and 2020, respectively.
Our business model relies on our ability to scale rapidly and to appropriately manage customer acquisition costs as we grow. If we are unable to establish a strong and trusted brand and recover our marketing costs through the increases in customer traffic and in the number of transactions by users of our platform, or if our broad marketing campaigns are not successful or are terminated, it could have a material adverse effect on our growth, results of operations and financial condition.
Any harm to our brand or reputation or any damage to the reputation of third parties or failure to enhance our brand recognition could have a material adverse effect on its results of operations and growth prospects.
Enhancing the recognition and reputation of our brand is critical to our business and competitiveness. Factors that are vital to this objective include but are not limited to our ability to:
maintain the quality and reliability of our platform;
maintain and develop relationships with auto dealers and financial institutions;
provide prospective car buyers and existing car buyers with superior service experiences;
effectively manage and resolve any complaints of car buyers, auto dealers that we work with or financial institutions; and
effectively protect personal information and privacy of car buyers and any sensitive data received from financial institutions.
Any malicious or inadvertent negative allegations made by the media or other parties about the foregoing or other aspects of us, including but not limited to our management, business, compliance with law, financial condition or prospects, whether with or without merits, could severely hurt our reputation and harm our business and results of operations.
Negative publicity about China’s automotive finance industry in general may also have a negative impact on our reputation, regardless of whether we have engaged in any inappropriate activities. Furthermore, any negative development in the automotive retailing industry, such as bankruptcies or failures of platforms providing automotive retailing services, and especially a large number of such bankruptcies or failures, or negative perception of the industry as a whole, even if factually incorrect or based on isolated incidents, could compromise our image, undermine the trust and credibility that we have established and impose a negative impact on our ability to attract new dealers, financial institutions, car buyers and other platform participants. Negative developments in the automotive retailing industry may also lead to tightened regulatory scrutiny of the sector and limit the scope of permissible business activities that may be conducted by companies like us. If any of the foregoing takes place, our business and results of operations could be materially and adversely affected.
We collaborate with various automotive transaction industry participants in providing our solutions and services. Such participants include dealers, financial institutions, sales agents, insurance brokers and companies and other business partners. Negative publicity about such counterparties, including any failure by them to adequately protect the personal information of car buyers, to comply with applicable laws and regulations or to otherwise meet required quality and service standards could harm our reputation.
We rely in part on internet search engines, social networking sites and third-party automotive sales platforms to help drive traffic to our website and mobile app, and if we fail to appear prominently in the search results or fail to drive traffic through paid advertising, our user traffic may decline and our business would be adversely affected.
We depend in part on internet search engines, social networking sites and third-party auto sales platforms to drive traffic to our website and mobile app. Our ability to maintain and increase the number of visitors directed to our website and mobile app is not entirely within our control. Our competitors may increase their search optimization efforts and outbid us for search terms on various search engines, resulting in their websites receiving a higher search result page ranking than ours. Additionally, internet search engines and third-party auto sales platforms could revise their methodologies in a way that would adversely affect our search result rankings. If internet search engines and third-party auto sales platforms modify their search algorithms in ways that are detrimental to us, or if our competitors’ efforts are more successful than ours, the overall growth in our customer base could slow down or our customer base could shrink. Internet search engine providers could display automotive dealer and pricing information directly to users in search results, align with our competitors or choose to develop competing services. We expect that our website and mobile app will experience fluctuations in search result rankings in the future. Any reduction in the number of users directed to our website and mobile app through internet search engines, social networking sites and third-party auto sales platforms could harm our business and operating results.
Our ability to grow our complementary product and service offerings may be limited, which could negatively impact our growth rate, revenues and financial performance.
If we introduce or expand additional offerings for our platform, such as services or products involving new cars, financing, leasing or detailing, we may incur losses or otherwise fail to enter these markets successfully. Our expansion into these markets will place us in competitive and regulatory environments with which we are unfamiliar and involve various risks, including the need to invest significant resources and the possibility that returns on such investments will not be achieved within several years, if at all. In attempting to establish new service or product offerings, we expect to incur significant expenses and face various other challenges, such as expanding our customer service and management personnel to cover these markets and complying with complicated regulations that apply to these markets. In addition, we may not successfully demonstrate the value of these complementary products and services to consumers, and failure to do so would compromise our ability to successfully expand into these additional streams of revenues. Any of these risks, if realized, could adversely affect our business and results of operations.
The automotive retail industry in general and our business in particular are sensitive to economic conditions. These conditions could adversely affect our business, sales, results of operations and financial condition.
We are subject to national and regional economic conditions. These conditions include, but are not limited to, recession, inflation, interest rates, unemployment levels, gasoline prices, consumer credit availability, consumer credit delinquency and loss rates, personal discretionary spending levels, and consumer sentiment about the economy in general. These conditions and the economy in general could be affected by significant national or international events such as acts of terrorism. When these economic conditions worsen or stagnate, it can have a material adverse effect on consumer demand for vehicles generally, on demand from particular consumer categories or demand for particular vehicle types. It can also negatively impact availability of credit to finance vehicle purchases for all or certain categories of consumers. This could result in lower sales, decreased margins on units sold, and decreased profits for our business. Worsening or stagnating economic conditions can also have a material adverse effect on the supply of premium used vehicles, as automotive manufacturers produce fewer new vehicles and consumers retain their current vehicles for longer periods of time. This could result in increased costs to acquire used vehicle inventory and decreased margins on units sold.
Any significant changes or deterioration in economic conditions could have a material adverse effect on our business, sales, results of operations and financial condition.
Our ability to operate and grow our platform depends in substantial part on our ability to access data and other resources that are available from a limited number of third parties.
In order to deliver the full functionality offered by our platform, including our Dealer SaaS system which empowers our Dealerships in their operations and connects them to other platform participants, we need continued access to sources of used auto market information. Much of such information is available only from a limited number of databases and other third parties, including our competitors.
We have developed various processes to obtain data from certain sources of used car market information and other third parties. In certain cases, we have entered into arrangements with parties who provide us with raw market data for use in our systems. The terms of the arrangements under which we have access to such data vary, which can impact the offering we are able to deliver. For instance, many agreements have terms that limit our access to and permitted uses of listing, sales or pricing data. In addition, we rely on tools to gather publicly available information for use in our proprietary data systems.
The third parties with whom we currently contract for data may, in the future, change their position and limit or eliminate our access to data and resources, increase the costs for access, provide data and resources to us in more limited or less useful formats, or restrict our permitted uses of data and resources. There can also be no assurance that the publicly available data we collect and utilize will continue to be available or that the tools we use to collect such data will continue to be able to gather and format them appropriately or at all. Failure to continue to maintain and expand our access to suitable pricing, listing and other data and resources may adversely impact our ability to continue to serve our Dealerships, other platform participants and expand our offering to new customers.
If our access to the data and resources necessary to support our platform is eliminated or reduced or becomes more costly, our ability to compete in the marketplace or to grow our business could be impaired and our operating results would suffer.
Our business generates and processes a large quantity of data, and improper handling of or unauthorized access to such data may adversely affect our business.
We face risks regarding the complying with applicable laws, rules and regulations relating to the collection, usage, disclosure and security of personal information, as well as any requests from regulatory and government authorities relating to such data. For instance, our Dealer SaaS system utilizes and generates substantial volumes of data on consumers and dealers, and we and our Dealerships rely on them for our operations and inventory management. These data include the information customers provide when purchasing a vehicle and applying for vehicle financing. In the event that we experienced a failure of our information systems, our operations and financial performance could be materially harmed, and if the information is accessed by third parties or publicized without authorization, our reputation or competitive position could suffer.
The PRC regulatory and enforcement regime with regard to data security and data protection has continued to evolve. There are uncertainties on how certain laws and regulations will be implemented in practice. PRC regulators have been increasingly focused on regulating data security and data protection. We expect that these areas will receive greater attention from regulators, as well as attract public scrutiny and attention going forward. This greater attention, scrutiny and enforcement, including more frequent inspections, could increase our compliance costs and subject us to heightened risks and challenges associated with data security and protection. If we are unable to manage these risks, our reputation and results of operations could be materially and adversely affected. For further details, please see “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Regulation —Regulations Relating to Information Security.”
We also grant limited access to specified data on our technology platform to certain other parties, such as our Dealerships. Our Dealerships face the same challenges and risks inherent in handling and protecting large volumes of data. Any system failure or security breach or lapse on our part or on the part of any of such third parties that results in the leakage of user data, or failure to respond thereto, could harm our reputation and brand and, consequently, our business, in addition to exposing us to potential legal liabilities.
In addition, we may become subject to additional laws in other jurisdictions. The laws, rules and regulations of other jurisdictions, such as the U.S. and Europe, may impose more stringent or conflicting requirements and penalties than those in China, compliance with which could require significant resources and costs. Any failure, or perceived failure, by us to comply with any regulatory requirements or privacy protection-related laws, rules and regulations could result in proceedings or actions against us by governmental entities or others. These proceedings or actions could subject us to significant penalties and negative publicity, which require us to change our business practices, increase our costs and severely disrupt our business.
We rely on sophisticated information systems to run our business. The failure of these systems, any service disruptions or outages, or the inability to enhance our capabilities, could have a material adverse effect on our business, sales and results of operations.
Our business and reputation are dependent upon the performance, reliability, availability, integrity and efficient operation of our information systems. In particular, we rely on our information systems to manage sales, inventory, our customer-facing websites and applications, including our mobile app, consumer financing and customer information. We also rely on our big data analytics to review and analyze data from across our platform and assist in our corporate and operational decision-making. There is no assurance that we will be able to protect our platform and computer systems against, among others, damage or interruption from natural disasters, power or telecommunications failures, air quality issues, environmental conditions, software errors, bugs or defects, configuration errors, computer viruses, denial-of-service attacks, security breaches, hacking attempts or criminal acts at all times. In the event of a service disruption or outage on our platform or in our computer systems, we may not be able to operate our Dealer SaaS system and facilitate loans, and our computer systems may not be able to store, retrieve, process and manage data. For example, we may experience temporary service disruptions or data losses during data migrations between old and new systems or system upgrades. We may not be able to recover all data and services in the event of a service disruption or outage. Additionally, our insurance policies may not adequately compensate us for any losses that we may incur during service disruptions or outages.
Any interruption or delays in our services, whether as a result of third-party error or our own error, natural disasters or security breaches, whether accidental or willful, could harm our relationships with our customers and other platform participants and damage our reputation, thus subject us to liabilities and cause customers and other platform participants to abandon our platform, any of which could adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
A severe or prolonged downturn in the Chinese or global economy could materially and adversely affect our business and financial condition.
COVID-19 had a severe and negative impact on the Chinese and the global economy in the first quarter of 2020. Whether this will lead to a prolonged downturn in the economy is still unknown. Even before the outbreak of COVID-19, the global macroeconomic environment was facing numerous challenges. The growth rate of the Chinese economy had already been slowing since 2010. There is considerable uncertainty over the long-term effects of the expansionary monetary and fiscal policies adopted by the central banks and financial authorities of some of the world’s leading economies, including the United States and China, even before 2020. Unrest, terrorist threats and the potential outbreak of wars in the Middle East and elsewhere may increase market volatility across the globe. There have also been concerns about the relationship between China and other countries, including the surrounding Asian countries, which may potentially have adverse economic effects. In particular, there is significant uncertainty about the future relationship between the United States and China with respect to trade policies, treaties, government regulations and tariffs. Economic conditions in China are sensitive to global economic conditions, as well as changes in domestic economic and political policies and the expected or perceived overall economic growth rate in China. Any severe or prolonged slowdown in the global or Chinese economy may materially and adversely affect our business, results of operations and financial condition.
Cyber-attacks, computer viruses, physical or electronic break-ins or other unauthorized access to our or our business partners’ computer systems could result in the misuse of confidential information and misappropriation of funds of our customers and other platform participants, which subject us to liabilities, cause reputational harm and adversely impact our results of operations and financial condition.
Our platform collects, stores and processes certain personal information and other sensitive data from our customers and other platform participants. The massive data that we have processed and stored makes us and our server hosting service providers the targets of, and potentially vulnerable to, cyber-attacks, computer viruses, hackers, denial-of-service attacks, physical or electronic break-ins or other unauthorized access. While we have taken steps to protect such confidential information, our security measures may be breached. Because techniques used to sabotage or obtain unauthorized access into systems change frequently and generally are not recognized until they are launched against a target, we may be unable to anticipate these techniques or to implement adequate preventative measures. Any accidental or willful security breaches or other unauthorized access to our or our server hosting service providers’ systems could cause confidential customers’ information to be stolen and used for criminal purposes. As personally identifiable and other confidential information is subject to legislation and regulations in numerous domestic and international jurisdictions, the inability to protect confidential information of our customers and other platform participants could result in additional cost and liability for us, damage our reputation, inhibit the use of our platform and harm our business. The Administrative Measures for the Security of the International Network of Computer Information Network, issued in December 1997 and amended in January 2011, requires us to report any data or security breaches to the local offices of the PRC Ministry of Public Security within 24 hours of any such breach. The Cyber Security Law of the PRC, issued in November 2016, requires us to take immediate remedial measures when we discover that our products or services are subject to risks, such as security defects or bugs. Such remedial measures include, informing our customers and other platform participants of the specific risks and reporting such risks to the relevant competent departments.
We also face indirect technology and cybersecurity risks relating to our business partners, including our third-party payment service providers who manage the transfer of customer funds. As a result of increasing consolidation and interdependence of computer systems, a technology failure, cyber-attack or other information or security breach that significantly compromises the systems of one entity could have a material impact on its business partners. Although our agreements with third-party payment service providers provide that each party is responsible for the cybersecurity of its own systems, any cyber-attacks, computer viruses, hackers, denial-of-service attacks, physical or electronic break-ins or similar disruptions of such third-party payment service providers could, among other things, adversely affect our ability to serve our customers and other platform participants, and could even result in the misappropriation of funds of our customers and other platform participants. If that were to occur, we and our third-party payment service providers could be held liable to customers and other platform participants who suffer losses from the misappropriation.
Our business is sensitive to changes in the prices of used and new vehicles.
Any significant changes in retail prices for used and new vehicles could have a material adverse effect on our sales and results of operations, including our gross margin. For example, if retail prices for used vehicles rise relative to retail prices for new vehicles, it could make buying a new vehicle more attractive to our customers than buying a used vehicle, which could have a material adverse effect on our sales and results of operations and could result in a decrease in our gross margin. Manufacturer incentives could contribute to narrowing this price gap. Our new car sales would also be affected by changes in the price of new cars, both in terms of consumer sensitivity to prices as well as our margins on such sales.
Our business is sensitive to conditions affecting automotive manufacturers, including manufacturer recalls.
Adverse conditions affecting one or more automotive manufacturers could have a material adverse effect on our sales and results of operations and could impact the supply of vehicles, including the supply of new and used vehicles. In addition, manufacturer recalls are a common occurrence that have accelerated in frequency and scope in recent years. Because we do not have manufacturer authorization to complete recall-related repairs, some vehicles we sell may have unrepaired safety defects. Such recalls, and our lack of authorization to make recall-related repairs, could adversely affect the sales or valuations of used vehicles, hence could cause us to temporarily remove vehicles from inventory, could force us to incur increased costs and could expose us to litigation and adverse publicity related to the sale of recalled vehicles, which could have a material adverse effect on our business, sales and results of operations.
Our business is dependent upon access to vehicle inventory. Obstacles to acquiring inventory, whether because of supply, competition, or other factors, or a failure to expeditiously liquidate that inventory could have a material adverse effect on our business, sales and results of operations.
Our purchases of used vehicles are based in large part on projected demand, aided by our big data analytics. A reduction in the availability of or access to sources of inventory could have a material adverse effect on our business, sales and results of operations. Although the supply of premium used vehicles has been increasing, there can be no assurance that this trend will continue or that it will benefit us.
As our business is dependent on our appraisal of the value of inventory that we purchase, if we fail to adjust appraisal offers to stay in line with broader market trade-in offer trends, or fail to recognize those trends, or if our appraisal process is not accurate, it could adversely affect our ability to acquire inventory. Our appraisal process could also be affected by competition, both from used and new car dealers directly and through third-party websites driving appraisal traffic to those dealers. See “—We operate in a highly competitive industry. Failure to develop and execute strategies to maintain our market position and to adapt to the increasing use of the internet to market, buy, sell and finance used vehicles could adversely affect our business, sales and results of operations” for additional discussion of this risk. Our ability to source vehicles from third-party auctions could be affected by an increase in the number of closed auctions that are open only to new car dealers who have franchise relationships with automotive manufacturers. An over-supply of used vehicle inventory will generally cause downward pressure on our product sales prices and margins and increase our average days to sale.
We also source a portion of our vehicles through our Kaixin Affiliated Network Dealer model, in which we rely on third-party partners, such as individuals or small dealerships, to acquire used cars. We have historically recognized limited other revenues from consignment sale arrangements with other used car dealers. We may be unable to maintain relationships with these third parties or may experience issues with the vehicles they provide to us, each of which could harm our business, sales and results of operations.
Used vehicle inventory has typically represented a significant portion of our total assets. Having such a large portion of our total assets in the form of used vehicle inventory for an extended period of time subjects us to depreciation and other risks that affect our results of operations. Accordingly, if we have excess inventory or our average days to sale increases, we may be unable to liquidate such inventory at prices that allow us to meet margin targets or to recover our costs, which could have a material adverse effect on our results of operations.
Changes in international trade policies and international barriers to trade may have an adverse effect on our business and expansion plans.
Changes to trade policies, treaties and tariffs in the jurisdictions in which we operate, or the perception that these changes could occur, could adversely affect the financial and economic conditions in China, our financial condition and results of operations. For example, the current U.S. administration has advocated greater restrictions on trade generally and significant increases in tariffs on goods imported into the United States, particularly from China, and has recently taken other steps towards restricting trade in certain goods. The current U.S. administration has created uncertainties with respect to, among other things, existing and proposed trade agreements, free trade generally, and potential significant increases on tariffs on goods imported into the U.S., particularly from China.
In addition, China may alter its trade policies, including in response to any new trade policies, treaties and tariffs implemented by the United States or other jurisdictions, which could include restrictions on the import of used vehicles into China. Such policy retaliations could also ultimately result in further trade policy responses by the United States and other countries, and result in an escalation which leading to a trade war, hence would have an adverse effect on manufacturing levels, trade levels and industries, including automotive sales and other businesses and services that rely on trade, commerce and manufacturing. Any such escalation in trade tensions or a trade war could affect the cost of our inventory, the sales prices of used and new cars or our overall business performance and have a material and adverse effect on our business and results of operations. Chinese policies to relax certain import taxes, such as taxes on used and/or new cars may also impact our business. For instance, if import taxes and similar duties on new cars are reduced, demand for used cars could be harmed and the margins of our used car sales business could be negatively impacted, which could adversely affect our results of operations and financial condition. Increased restrictions on trade or certain other changes to trade policies could have an adverse effect on the PRC economy, the used automobile sales industry and our business and results of operations.
We may from time to time be subject to claims, controversies, lawsuits and legal proceedings, which could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition, results of operations, cash flows and reputation.
We may from time to time become subject to or involved in various claims, controversies, lawsuits, and legal proceedings. See “Item 8. Financial Information—A. Consolidated Statements and Other Financial Information—Legal Proceedings” for information about ongoing legal proceedings in which we are involved. Lawsuits and litigations may cause us to incur additional defense costs, utilize a significant portion of our resources and divert management’s attention from its day-to-day operations, any of which could harm our business. Any settlements or judgments against us could have a material adverse impact on our financial condition, results of operations and cash flows. In addition, negative publicity regarding claims or judgments made against us, no matter with or without merits, may damage our reputation and may result in material adverse impact on us.
We may be unable to prevent others from the unauthorized use of our intellectual property, which could harm our business and competitive position.
We regard our trademarks, patents, copyrights, domain names, know-how, proprietary technologies and similar intellectual property as critical to our success, and we rely on a combination of intellectual property laws and contractual arrangements, including confidentiality, invention assignment and non-compete agreements with our employees and others to protect our proprietary rights. See also “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Intellectual Property.” Despite these measures, any of our intellectual property rights could be challenged, invalidated, circumvented, preempted or misappropriated, or such intellectual property may not be sufficient to provide us with competitive advantages.
In March 2018, Renren transferred to KAG the kaixin.com domain name, and in May 2018, an affiliate of Renren granted KAG an exclusive license to use the “Kaixin” brand. Further, we have successfully registered our brand name “开心汽车” (which translates to “Kaixin Auto”) in class 35 for services, including promotion for others, purchase for others, providing online markets for sellers and purchasers of goods and services, marketing, etc., which is crucial to our business. However, we have not obtained trademark registrations in other categories related but less crucial to our business, including automobile maintenance. Therefore, we may be unable to prevent any third parties from using the Kaixin brand for some businesses that are the same or similar to ours. As China has adopted a “first-to-file” trademark registration system, if trademarks similar to our brand have been registered in those categories that are related to our business, we may not be able to successfully register our brand or may even be exposed to risk of infringement with respect to third-party trademark rights. We believe that our brand is vital to our competitiveness and our ability to attract new customers. Any failure to protect these rights could adversely affect our business and financial condition.
We cannot assure you that the measures we have taken will be sufficient to prevent any misappropriation or infringement upon our intellectual properties. In addition, because of the rapid pace of technological change in our industry, parts of our business rely on technologies developed or licensed by third parties, and we may not be able to obtain or continue to obtain licenses and technologies from these third parties on reasonable terms, or at all.
It is often difficult to maintain and enforce intellectual property rights in China. Statutory laws and regulations are subject to judicial interpretation and enforcement and may not be applied consistently due to the lack of clear guidance on statutory interpretation. Confidentiality, invention assignment and non-compete agreements may be breached by counterparties, and there may not be adequate remedies available to us for any such breach. Accordingly, we may not be able to effectively protect our intellectual property rights or to enforce our contractual rights in China. Preventing any unauthorized use of our intellectual property is difficult and costly and the steps we take may be inadequate to prevent the misappropriation of our intellectual property. In the event that we resort to litigation to enforce our intellectual property rights, such litigation could result in substantial costs and a diversion of our managerial and financial resources. We can provide no assurance that we will prevail in any such litigation. In addition, our trade secrets may be leaked or otherwise become available to our competitors, or our competitors may independently discover them. To the extent that our employees or consultants use intellectual property owned by others in their work for us, disputes may arise as to the rights in the related know-how and inventions. Any failure in protecting or enforcing our intellectual property rights could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
We may be subject to intellectual property infringement claims, which may be expensive to defend and may disrupt our business and operations.
We cannot be certain that our operations or any aspects of our business does not or will not infringe upon or otherwise violate trademarks, patents, copyrights, know-how or other intellectual property rights held by third parties. We may from time to time, in the future, become subject to legal proceedings and claims relating to the intellectual property rights of others. In addition, there may be third-party trademarks, patents, copyrights, know-how or other intellectual property rights that are infringed by our products, services or other aspects of our business without our awareness. Holders of such intellectual property rights may seek to enforce such intellectual property rights against us in China, the United States or other jurisdictions. If any third-party infringement claims are brought against us, we may be forced to divert management’s time and other resources from our business and operations to defend against these claims, regardless of their merits.
Additionally, the application and interpretation of China’s intellectual property rights laws and the procedures and standards for granting trademarks, patents, copyrights, know-how or other intellectual property rights in China are still evolving and full of uncertainties, and we cannot assure you that the PRC courts or regulatory authorities would agree with our analysis or that of our counsel. If we were found to have violated the intellectual property rights of others, we may be subject to liabilities for our infringement activities or may be prohibited from using such intellectual property, and we may incur licensing fees or be forced to develop alternatives of our own. As a result, our business and results of operations may be materially and adversely affected.
If we fail to implement and maintain an effective system of internal controls over financial reporting, we may be unable to accurately report our results of operations, meet our reporting obligations or prevent fraud.
Prior to our acquisition of KAG, in connection with the audit of its consolidated financial statements as of December 31, 2018 and for the year ended December 31, 2018, KAG identified a “material weakness” in its internal control over financial reporting and other control deficiencies. A “material weakness” is a deficiency, or a combination of deficiencies, in internal control over financial reporting, such that there is a reasonable possibility that a material misstatement of the company’s annual or interim financial statements will not be prevented or detected on a timely basis. The material weakness identified relates to inadequate controls designed over the accounting of significant and complex transactions to ensure that those transactions are properly accounted for in accordance with U.S. GAAP. We have taken measures and plan to continue to take measures to remedy these deficiencies. However, the implementation of these measures may not fully address the material weakness and deficiencies in our internal control over financial reporting, and we cannot conclude that they have been fully remedied.
In 2019 and 2020, we identified material weaknesses in our internal control over financial reporting relating to (i) inadequate technical competency of financial staff in charge of significant and complex transactions to ensure that those transactions are properly accounted for in accordance with U.S. GAAP; (ii) lack of an effective and continuous risk assessment procedure to identify and assess the financial reporting risks; (iii) lack of evaluations to ascertain whether the components of internal control are present and functioning; and (iv) inadequate controls over inventory custody at local dealerships. Measures that we implement to address these material weaknesses and other control deficiencies in our internal control over financial reporting might not fully address them, and we might not be able to conclude that they have been fully remedied.
Following the identification of the material weaknesses and other control deficiencies, we have taken measures to remedy these deficiencies. However, we have not yet fully addressed the weaknesses as of the date of this annual report. Our failure to address such other material weaknesses or control deficiencies could result in the inaccuracies of our financial statements and could also impair our ability to comply with the applicable financial reporting requirements and related regulatory filings on a timely basis. Moreover, ineffective internal control over financial reporting significantly hinders our ability to prevent fraud.
We are a public company in the United States subject to the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 requires that we include a report of management on our internal control over financial reporting in our annual report on Form 20-F beginning with our annual report for the fiscal year ending December 31, 2020. In addition, once we cease to be an “emerging growth company” as such term is defined under the JOBS Act, our independent registered public accounting firm must attest to and report on the effectiveness of our internal control over financial reporting. Our management may conclude that our internal control over financial reporting is not effective. Moreover, even if our management concludes that our internal control over financial reporting is effective, our independent registered public accounting firm, after conducting its own independent assessment, may issue a report that is qualified if it is not satisfied with our internal controls or the level at which our controls are documented, designed, operated or reviewed, or if it interprets the relevant requirements differently from us. In addition, as a public company, our reporting obligations may place a significant strain on our management, operational and financial resources and systems in the foreseeable future. We may be unable to timely complete our evaluation and any required remediations.
During the course of documenting and testing our internal control procedures, in order to satisfy the requirements of Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, we may identify other weaknesses and deficiencies in our internal control over financial reporting. In addition, if we fail to maintain the adequacy of our internal control over financial reporting, as these standards are modified, supplemented or amended from time to time, we may not be able to conclude on an ongoing basis that we have effective internal control over financial reporting in accordance with Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. Generally, if we fail to achieve and maintain an effective internal control environment, we could suffer material misstatements in our financial statements and fail to meet our reporting obligations, which would likely cause the investors to lose confidence in our reported financial information. This could in turn limit our access to capital markets, harm our results of operations, and lead to a decline in the trading price of our ordinary shares. Additionally, ineffective internal control over financial reporting could expose us to increased risk of fraud or misuse of corporate assets and subject us to potential delisting from the stock exchange on which we list, regulatory investigations and civil or criminal sanctions.
We depend on third-party suppliers to provide spare parts and accessories.
We depend on auto manufacturers and independent local third-party suppliers for certain spare parts and accessories that we sell. The success of such value-added services is dependent on these suppliers’ ability to anticipate changes in consumer tastes, preferences and requirements and deliver to us in sufficient quantities and on a timely basis a desirable, high-quality and price-competitive mix of accessories. Our suppliers’ products may fail to meet our customers’ expectations due to changes of consumer preferences. We may be unable to maintain a sufficient stock. Our suppliers may increase their prices due to increasing demand for their products from our competitors. If we cannot or opt not to procure spare parts and accessories from such third-party suppliers, our profit margin might be adversely affected. Moreover, the spare parts supplied by our suppliers may fail to function properly and as a result, our customers may bring claims against us, in which case we may be required to make repairs or pay damages. In the event of any of the above, our margins of these products may be affected, which in turn could adversely affect our results of operations and financial condition.
Our business depends on the continued efforts of our senior management. If one or more of our key executives were unable or unwilling to continue in their present positions, our business may be severely disrupted.
Our business operations depend on the continued services of our senior management, particularly the executive officers named in this annual report. While we have provided different incentives to our management, we cannot assure you that we can continue to retain their services. If one or more of our key executives were unable or unwilling to continue in their present positions, we may not be able to replace them readily or at all, our future growth may be constrained, our business may be severely disrupted and our financial condition and results of operations may be materially and adversely affected. We may incur additional expenses to recruit, train and retain qualified personnel. If any dispute arises between our current or former officers and us, we may have to incur substantial costs and expenses in order to enforce such agreements in China or we may be unable to enforce them at all.
We may not be able to attract and retain the qualified and skilled employees needed to support our business.
We believe our success depends on the efforts, effectiveness and talent of our employees, including automotive engineers, technicians, sales representatives, research and development personnel. Our future success depends on our continued ability to attract, develop, motivate and retain qualified and skilled employees. Competition for highly skilled personnel is extremely intense. We may not be able to hire and retain such personnel at levels consistent with our existing compensation and salary structure. Some of the companies with which we compete for experienced employees have greater resources than we do and may be able to offer more attractive terms of employment.
In addition, we invest significant time and resources in training our employees, which increases their value to competitors who may seek to recruit them. If we fail to retain our employees, we could incur significant expenses in hiring and training their replacements, and the quality of our services and our ability to serve our customers could diminish, resulting in a material adverse effect to our business.
Increases in labor costs in the PRC may adversely affect our business and results of operations.
The economy in China has experienced increases in inflation and labor costs in recent years. As a result, average wages in the PRC are expected to continue to increase. In addition, we are required by PRC laws and regulations to pay various statutory employee benefits, including pension, housing fund, medical insurance, work-related injury insurance, unemployment insurance and maternity insurance to designated government agencies for the benefit of our employees. Unless we are able to control our labor costs or pass on these increased labor costs to our customers and other platform participants by increasing the fees of our services, our financial condition and results of operations may be adversely affected.
Our quarterly results may fluctuate significantly partly due to seasonality and may not fully reflect the underlying performance of our business.
Our quarterly results of operations, including the levels of our revenues, operating cost and expenses, net loss and other key metrics, may vary significantly in the future due to a variety of factors, some of which are outside of our control, and period-to-period comparisons of our operating results may not be meaningful, especially given our limited operating history. Accordingly, the results for any one quarter are not necessarily an indication of future performance. Fluctuations in quarterly results may adversely affect the value of our ordinary shares. Factors that may cause fluctuations in our quarterly financial results include:
our ability to attract new car buyers;
our ability to maintain existing relationships with business partners and establish new relationships with additional business partners, such as financial institutions;
our ability to access capital;
the mix of solutions and services that we offer;
the amount and timing of our operating cost and expenses and the maintenance and expansion of our business, operations and infrastructure;
financial institutions’ willingness and ability to fund financing transactions through our platform on reasonable terms;
our emphasis on experience of car buyers, instead of near-term growth;
the timing of expenses related to the development or acquisition of technologies or businesses;
proper and sufficient accounting policies with respect to our risk reserve liabilities and implementation;
network outages or security breaches;
general economic, industry and market conditions; and
changes in applicable laws and regulations.
In addition, we have experienced, and expect to continue to experience, seasonal fluctuations in our revenues and results of operations. Trends of our revenues are a reflection of car purchase patterns by car buyers. Sales of used cars tend to be lower in the first quarter of each year than in the other three quarters due to the effect of the Chinese New Year holiday. As a result of these factors, our revenues may vary from quarter to quarter and our quarterly results may not be comparable to the corresponding periods of the prior years. Our actual results may differ significantly from our targets or estimated quarterly results. Therefore, you may not be able to predict our annual results of operations based on a quarter-to-quarter comparison of our results of operations. The quarterly fluctuations in our revenues and results of operations could result in volatility and cause the price of our shares to fall. As our revenues grow, these seasonal fluctuations may become more pronounced.
The COVID-19 outbreak has significantly disrupted our operations and adversely affected our results of operations and could continue to do so.
China has recently experienced an outbreak of COVID-19, a disease caused by a novel and highly contagious form of coronavirus. The severity of the outbreak in certain provinces, such as the Hubei Province, and municipalities, such as Wuhan, resulted in travel restrictions, delay in resumption of service and mass production and the related quarantine measures imposed by the government across China and materially affected general commercial activities in China. Because substantially all of our operations are conducted in China, the outbreak of COVID-19 has caused a disruption to our business, especially one of our Dealerships is located in Wuhan, the original epicenter of the outbreak. In late January 2020, in response to intensifying efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus, we closed all of our Dealership Outlets and corporate offices. In March 2020, we gradually resumed our operations in various cities, but customer traffic to our Dealership Outlets has remained significantly lower than comparable periods before the COVID-19 outbreak. Around mid-2020, we decided to put a halt to business operations in our Dealership Outlets due to severe decline in sales volume and profit margin. With the business disruption and reduced customers’ demand, we experienced a significant decrease in our 2020 sales revenue. With the improved control over the COVID-19 and recovery of overall economy, we have reached agreement with a majority of non-controlling shareholders of the Dealerships to resume used car business operations by early 2021.
Any similar future outbreak of a contagious disease, other adverse public health developments in China and around the world, or the measures taken by the governments of China or other countries in response to a future outbreak of a contagious disease may restrict economic activities in affected regions, resulting in reduced business volumes, temporary closure of our production facilities and offices or otherwise disrupt our business operations and adversely affect our results of operations.
We face risks related to natural disasters, which could significantly disrupt our operations.
We are vulnerable to natural disasters and other calamities such as hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, earthquakes and other adverse weather and climate conditions. Although we have servers that are hosted in an offsite location, our backup system does not capture data on a real-time basis and we may be unable to recover certain data in the event of a server failure. We cannot assure you that any backup systems will be adequate to protect us from the effects of fire, floods, typhoons, earthquakes, power loss, telecommunications failures, break-ins, wars, riots, terrorist attacks or similar events. Any of the foregoing events may give rise to interruptions, breakdowns, system failures, technology platform failures or internet failures, which could cause the loss or corruption of data or malfunctions of software or hardware as well as adversely affect our ability to provide services on our platform.
We are subject to local conditions in the geographic areas in which we operate our business.
Our performance is subject to local economic, competitive and other conditions prevailing in the geographic areas where we operate our business. Since a large portion of our sales are generated in second- and third-tier cities in China, our results of operations depend substantially on the general economic conditions and consumer spending habits in these markets. In the event that any of these geographic areas experience a downturn in economic conditions, it could have a material adverse effect on our business, sales and results of operations.
We may have exposure to greater than anticipated tax liabilities.
We are subject to enterprise income tax, value-added tax, and other taxes in each province and city in China where we have operations. Our tax structure is subject to review by various local tax authorities. The determination of our provision for income tax and other tax liabilities requires significant judgment. In the ordinary course of our business, there are many transactions and calculations where the ultimate tax determination is uncertain. For example, since 2018, we have entered into a series of ancillary agreements to facilitate our sale of used cars for value-added tax optimization purposes. Under these ancillary agreements, when we source a used car, the legal title of the car is transferred to a senior member of management of Shanghai Jieying, or a Jieying Executive, and the registration is transferred to the name of one of the Dealership’s employees. When the used car is sold, the relevant legal ownership is transferred from the Jieying Executive to the purchaser, and the registration is transferred from the Dealership employee’s name to the name of the purchaser. Under PRC laws and regulations, if the seller is an individual selling a personal automobile, the seller is exempted from value-added tax. Thus, structuring the purchase and subsequent sale such that the legal title and automobile registration are placed under the names of Jieying Executives and Dealership employees, respectively, as described above results in our recognizing no value-added tax on the sales of the used cars. Viewed as a service provider from a value-added tax perspective in the used car transactions structured this way, we are only subject to value-added tax on the difference between the original purchase price and retail price of the used cars. Although we believe that the transaction structure created by the ancillary agreements and our estimates of our value-added taxes are reasonable, the ultimate decisions by the relevant tax authorities may differ from the amounts recorded in our financial statements and if the conclusion were reached by relevant tax authorities that we were subject to additional value-added taxes as a result of using the employees as agents in this structure, such a determination would have a material adverse effect on our financial results in the period or periods for which such determinations are made.
Restoration of limits on cross-regional flows of used cars would adversely affect our sourcing and sales of used cars.
To create a freely circulating market of used cars, the Chinese central government has implemented multiple policies in recent years aimed at removing restrictions on cross-regional flows of used cars. In March 2016, the State Council issued a guideline to promote more convenient transactions of used vehicles. This required the removal, in all cities other than key regions for air pollution prevention and control, such as Beijing and 14 others, of curbs previously implemented to prevent vehicles from one city or province being sold in another, provided that the subject vehicle meets the emission standards of the destination locality. In December 2016, the MOFCOM and the Ministry of Environmental Protection issued orders to implement the State Council’s guideline, requiring that, as long as the regular inspections for environmental protection and motor vehicle safety are valid and the motor vehicle meets the emission standards of the destination locality, local governments should not set any other limits. Further, the Government Work Report 2018 states that more efforts will be made to scrap any limits on cross-region flows of used cars. We do not expect that any new restrictions will be imposed to prevent cross-region used car transactions. However, if such restrictions were to be imposed by local governments, it would adversely affect our sourcing and sales of used cars.
Government policies on automobile purchases and ownership may materially affect our results of operations.
Government policies on automobile purchases and ownership may have a material effect on our business due to their influences on consumer behaviors. With an effort to alleviate traffic congestion and improve air quality, some local governmental authorities issued regulations and relevant implementation rules in order to control urban traffic and the number of automobiles within particular urban areas. For example, local Beijing governmental authorities adopted regulations and relevant implementing rules in December 2010 to limit the total number of license plates issued to new automobile purchases in Beijing each year. Local Guangzhou governmental authorities also announced similar regulations, which came into effect in July 2013. There are similar policies that restrict the issuance of new automobile license plates in Shanghai, Tianjin, Hangzhou and Shenzhen. In September 2013, the State Council released a plan for the prevention and remediation of air pollution, which requires large cities, such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, to further restrict the number of motor vehicles. In October 2013, the Beijing government issued an additional regulation to limit the total number of vehicles in Beijing to no more than six million by the end of 2017. Such regulatory developments, as well as other uncertainties, may adversely affect the growth prospects of China’s automotive industry, which in turn may have a material adverse impact on our business.
We rely on contractual obligations rather than government filings to ensure our continued title to vehicles managed under our inventory financing business.
Our loans to used car dealerships are structured on a finance lease basis, whereby the entity lessor sells us the vehicle before leasing it back from us, although for accounting purposes the transaction is not treated as a sale as it is not substantively a sale due to the economic substance of the transaction. In spite of this arrangement, upon completing the purchase of the subject vehicle, we do not formally transfer the registration of the vehicle into our name. We also do not file mortgage registrations relating to the lease of the vehicle. Instead, our contract with the lessor obligates them not to take any action that could undermine our title to the vehicle. In addition, we retain in our control all documents relating to the vehicle and title, and provide markings for the vehicle identifying it as owned by us. However, these steps would not prevent a good-faith third-party buyer from taking legal title to the vehicle if the lessor attempted to sell the vehicle without our knowledge. If the lessor sells the vehicle without our knowledge, we would face potential inventory shortages of vehicles, liability for breach of contract if there is another contract selling the same vehicle, and incurred significant costs with an attempt to recover from the lessor the losses from such unauthorized sale of the vehicle. We might not be able to recover from the lessor our losses from the unauthorized sale of vehicle, or claim back the legal title of the vehicle, which would have a material adverse effect on our business, results of operations and financial condition.
Negative media coverage could adversely affect our business.
Negative publicity about us or our business, shareholders, affiliates, directors, officers or other employees, as well as the industry in which we operate, can harm our business prospects and results of operations. Such negative publicity could be related to a variety of matters, including but not limited to:
alleged misconduct or other improper activities committed by our shareholders, affiliates, directors, officers and other employees;
false or malicious allegations or rumors about us or our shareholders, affiliates, directors, officers and other employees;
users’ complaints about the quality of our products and services;
copyright infringements involving us and content offered on our platform;
security breaches of confidential user information; and
governmental and regulatory investigations or penalties resulting from our failure to comply with the applicable laws and regulations.
In addition to traditional media, there has been an increasing use of social media platforms and similar devices in China, including instant messaging applications, such as WeChat, social media websites and other forms of internet-based communications that provide individuals with access to a broad base of users and other interested persons. The availability of information on instant messaging applications and social media platforms is virtually immediate as is its impact without affording us an opportunity for redress or correction. The opportunity for dissemination of information, including inaccurate information, is seemingly limitless and readily available. Information concerning our company, shareholders, directors, officers and employees may be posted on such platforms at any time. The risks associated with any such negative publicity or inaccurate information cannot be completely eliminated or mitigated and may materially harm our reputation, business, financial condition and results of operations.
We have limited insurance coverage which could expose us to significant costs and business disruption.
The insurance industry in China is still in an early stage of development, and insurance companies in China currently offer limited business-related insurance products. We do not maintain business interruption insurance or general third-party liability insurance, nor do we maintain property insurance. We consider our insurance coverage to be reasonable in light of the nature of our business and the insurance products that are available in China and in line with the practices of other companies in the same industry of similar size in China, but we cannot assure you that our insurance coverage is sufficient to prevent any loss or that we will be able to successfully claim our losses under our current insurance policies on a timely basis, or at all. If we incur any losses that is not covered by our insurance policies, or the compensated amount is significantly less than our actual loss, our business, financial condition and results of operations could be materially and adversely affected.
Risks Related to Our Carve-out from Renren and Our Relationship with Renren
We have limited experiences operating as a stand-alone public company.
Prior to 2019, Renren had provided KAG with financial, administrative, sales and marketing, human resources and legal services, as well as the services of a number of its executives and employees. We may encounter operational, administrative and strategic difficulties as we adjust to operating as a stand-alone public company. Any failure or significant disruptions to our own financial or administrative systems could have an adverse impact on its business operations, such as paying its suppliers and employees, executing foreign currency transactions or performing other administrative services, on a timely basis. The difficulties we may encounter may also cause us to react more slowly than our competitors to industry changes and may divert our management’s attention from running our business or otherwise harm our operations.
In addition, our management team need to develop the expertise necessary to comply with the numerous regulatory and other requirements applicable to public companies, including the requirements relating to corporate governance, listing standards, securities and investor relations matters. While KAG was a subsidiary of Renren, it was indirectly subject to the requirements with regards to internal control over financial reporting under Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. However, as a stand-alone public company, our management have to evaluate our internal control system independently with new thresholds of materiality, and to implement necessary changes to our internal control system. We cannot guarantee that we are able to do so in a timely and effective manner.
We may not continue to receive the same level of support from Renren, and if our collaboration with Renren is terminated or curtailed or if we are no longer able to benefit from the synergies of our cooperation with Renren, our business may be adversely affected.
Renren has extensive experiences in internet social media, and our business has benefited significantly from Renren’s strong market position in China and its expertise in technology and social media-related businesses. In addition, we have also benefitted from Renren’s financial support in the past.
Although we have entered into a series of agreements with Renren relating to our ongoing business partnership and service arrangements with Renren, there can be no assurance that we will continue to receive the same level of support from Renren. Our customers and platform partners may react negatively to our separation from Renren. To the extent that we cannot maintain our cooperative relationships with Renren on commercially reasonable terms or at all, we will need to develop relationships with other business partners, which could result in material and adverse effects to our business and results of operations. We may also need to obtain financing through other means if Renren ceases to provide financial support to us. Our inability to maintain a cooperative relationship with Renren could materially and adversely affect our business, growth and prospects.
Our agreements with Renren may be less favorable to us than similar agreements negotiated between unaffiliated third parties. In particular, our non-competition agreement with Renren limits the scope of business that we are allowed to conduct.
We have entered into a series of agreements with Renren and the terms of such agreements may be less favorable to us than would be the case if they were negotiated with unaffiliated third parties. In particular, under the non-competition agreement that we entered into with Renren on April 30, 2019, we agreed not to compete with Renren in respect of the business that was conducted by Renren as of that date, as described in its periodic filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, or the SEC, prior to that date, other than the used and new consumer automotive business. Such contractual limitations significantly affect our ability to diversify sources of revenues and may materially and adversely impact our business and prospects should the growth of the used and new consumer automotive business in China slow down. In addition, pursuant to the master transaction agreement that we entered into with Renren on the same date, we agreed to indemnify Renren for liabilities arising from litigations and other contingencies related to our business and assume these liabilities as part of our carve-out from Renren. The allocation of assets and liabilities between Renren and us may not reflect the allocation that would have been reached by two unaffiliated parties. Moreover, so long as Renren continues to control us, we may not be able to bring a legal claim against Renren in the event of contractual breach, notwithstanding our contractual rights under the agreements described above and other inter-company agreements entered into from time to time.
Our sales, marketing and brand promotion have benefited significantly from our association with Renren. Any negative development in our market position or brand recognition may materially and adversely affect our marketing efforts and the strength of our brand.
Renren, the former parent company of KAG, has remained our controlling shareholder. We have benefited significantly from our association with Renren in marketing our brand and platform. For example, we have benefited from Renren’s strong brand and industry recognition in China, which has enhanced our credibility and marketing reach. If Renren loses its market position, the effectiveness of our marketing and business development efforts through our association with Renren may be materially and adversely affected. In addition, any negative publicity associated with Renren will likely to have an adverse impact on the effectiveness of our marketing efforts, reputation and brand.
Risks Related to Our Corporate Structure
We rely on contractual arrangements with our VIEs and their respective shareholders to operate our business, which may not be as effective as direct ownership in providing operational control and otherwise have a material adverse effect as to our business.
We rely on contractual arrangements with our VIEs and their respective shareholders to operate our business. For a description of these contractual arrangements, see “Item 4. Information on the Company—C. Organizational Structure.” These contractual arrangements may not be as effective as direct ownership in providing us with control over our VIEs. If our VIEs or their respective shareholders fail to perform their respective obligations under these contractual arrangements of which they are a party, our recourse to the assets held by our VIEs is indirect and we may have to incur substantial costs and expend significant resources to enforce such arrangements in reliance on legal remedies under the PRC law.
Any failure by our VIEs or their respective shareholders to perform their obligations under our contractual arrangements with them would have a material adverse effect on our business.
We, through our wholly-owned PRC subsidiary, Shanghai Auto, have entered into a series of contractual arrangements with our VIEs and their respective shareholders. For a description of these contractual arrangements, see “Item 4. Information on the Company—C. Organizational Structure.” If our VIEs or their shareholders fail to perform their respective obligations under these contractual arrangements, we may incur substantial costs and expend additional resources to enforce such arrangements. We may also have to rely on legal remedies under PRC laws, including seeking specific performance or injunctive relief, and claiming damages, which we cannot assure you will be effective under the PRC laws. For example, if the shareholders of our VIEs were to refuse to transfer their equity interests in the VIEs to us or our designee when we exercise the purchase option pursuant to these contractual arrangements, or if they were otherwise to act in bad faith towards us, then we may have to take legal actions to compel them to perform their contractual obligations. Further, if we fail to maintain effective control over our VIEs, our business would be materially and adversely affected.
All the agreements under our contractual arrangements are governed by the PRC laws and provide for the resolution of disputes through arbitration in China. Accordingly, these contracts would be interpreted in accordance with the PRC laws and any disputes would be resolved in accordance with the PRC legal procedures. The legal system in the PRC is not as developed as in some other jurisdictions, such as the U.S.. As a result, uncertainties in the PRC legal system could limit our ability to enforce these contractual arrangements.
Meanwhile, there are very few precedents and little formal guidance as to how contractual arrangements in the context of a VIE should be interpreted or enforced under PRC laws. There remain significant uncertainties regarding the ultimate outcome of such arbitration should legal action become necessary. In addition, under PRC laws, rulings by arbitrators are final and parties cannot appeal arbitration results in court unless such rulings are revoked or determined unenforceable by a competent court. If the losing parties fail to carry out the arbitration awards within a prescribed time limit, the prevailing parties may only enforce the arbitration awards in PRC courts through arbitration award recognition proceedings, which would require additional expenses and result in n delay. In the event that we are unable to enforce these contractual arrangements, or if we suffer significant delay or other obstacles in the process of enforcing these contractual arrangements, we may not be able to exert effective control over our VIEs and relevant rights and licenses held by them that we require in order to operate our business, and our ability to conduct our business may be negatively affected. See “—Risks Related to Doing Business in China—Uncertainties with respect to the PRC legal system could adversely affect us.”
The shareholders of our VIEs may have potential conflicts of interest with us. We do not have any arrangements in place to address such potential conflicts.
We have designated individuals who are PRC citizens to be nominee shareholders of our VIEs in China. Although the shareholders of our VIEs are contractually obligated to act in good faith and in our best interest, we cannot assure you that when conflicts of interest arise, any or all of these individuals will act in our best interest. If these individuals were to act in bad faith towards us, they may breach or cause our VIEs and their subsidiaries to breach or refuse to renew the existing contractual arrangements with us.
Currently, we do not have arrangements to address potential conflicts of interest that the shareholders of our VIEs may encounter, on one hand, and as beneficial owners of our company, on the other hand. We, however, could, at all times, exercise our option under the exclusive option agreement to cause them to transfer all of their equity ownership in our VIEs to a PRC entity or individual designated by us as permitted by the then applicable PRC laws. In addition, if such conflicts of interest arise, we could also, in the capacity of attorney-in-fact of the then existing shareholders of our VIEs as provided under the power of attorney, directly appoint new directors of our VIEs. We rely on the shareholders of our VIEs to comply with the PRC laws and regulations, which protect contracts and provide that directors and executive officers owe a duty of loyalty to the company and require them to avoid conflicts of interest and not to take advantage of their positions for personal gains, and the laws of the Cayman Islands, which provide that directors have a duty of care and a duty of loyalty to act in good faith in our best interests. However, the legal frameworks of China and the Cayman Islands do not provide guidance on resolving conflicts in the event of a conflict with another corporate governance regime. If we cannot resolve any conflicts of interest or disputes that arises between us and the shareholders of the VIEs, we would have to rely on legal proceedings, which could result in the disruption of our business and subject us to substantial uncertainties as to the outcome of any such legal proceedings.
If the PRC government deems that the contractual arrangements in relation to our VIEs do not comply with the PRC regulatory restrictions on foreign investment in the relevant industries, or if these regulations or the interpretation of existing regulations change in the future, we could be subject to severe penalties or be forced to relinquish its interests in those operations.
The PRC government regulates telecommunications-related businesses through strict business licensing requirements and other government regulations. These laws and regulations also include limitations on foreign ownership of PRC companies that engage in telecommunications-related businesses. Specifically, foreign investors are generally not allowed to own more than a 50% equity interest in any PRC company engaging in value-added telecommunications businesses. The primary foreign investor must also have experience and a good track record in providing value-added telecommunications services, or VATS, overseas.
Because we are an exempted company incorporated in the Cayman Islands, we are classified as a foreign enterprise under the PRC laws and regulations, and our wholly owned enterprises in the PRC are each a foreign invested enterprise, or an FIE. Accordingly, our subsidiaries are not eligible to operate VATS or provide certain other restricted services related to our business in China. We relied on Qianxiang Changda and one of its subsidiaries to operate a peer-to-peer financing platform, until the end of 2017 when both the platform and subsidiary were transferred to Renren. We rely on Shanghai Jieying to operate our used auto sales online platform and app which we believe are considered to be VATS by the PRC government. Accordingly, we rely on contractual arrangements with Qianxiang Changda and Shanghai Jieying, namely our VIEs, and their respective shareholders, to operate our business. Our PRC subsidiary Shanghai Auto has entered into a series of contractual arrangements with our VIEs and their respective shareholders, which enable us to (i) exercise effective control over the VIEs; (ii) receive substantially all of the economic benefits of the VIEs; and (iii) have an exclusive option to purchase all or part of the equity interests and assets in the VIEs when and to the extent permitted by the PRC law.
As a result of these contractual arrangements, we have control over the VIEs and hence consolidate their financial results as our consolidated affiliated entities under U.S. GAAP. For a description of these contractual arrangements, see “Item 4. Information on the Company—C. Organizational Structure”.
We believe that our corporate structure and contractual arrangements comply with the current applicable PRC laws and regulations. Our PRC legal counsel, Commerce & Finance Law Offices, based on its understanding of the relevant PRC laws and regulations currently in effect, is of the opinion that each of the Contractual Agreements among our relevant wholly-owned PRC subsidiary, our VIEs and their respective shareholders is, and taken as a whole are, (i) valid and legally binding on each party thereto; and (ii) enforceable in accordance with the terms thereof, subject as to enforceability to applicable bankruptcy, insolvency, moratorium, reorganization and similar laws affecting creditors’ rights generally, the discretion of relevant Government Agencies in exercising their authority in connection with the interpretation and implementation thereof and the application of relevant PRC Laws and policies thereto, and to general equity principles, except that the pledges on Shanghai Jieying’s equity interests would not be deemed validly created until they are registered with the competent administration of industry and commerce. However, we have been further advised by our PRC legal counsel that there are substantial uncertainties regarding the interpretation and application of current or future PRC laws and regulations. Thus, the PRC government may ultimately take a view contrary to the opinion of our PRC legal counsel. There can be no assurance that the PRC government authorities, such as the Ministry of Commerce, or MOFCOM, or the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, or the MIIT, or other authorities that regulate the telecommunications industry, would agree that our corporate structure or any of the above contractual arrangements comply with the PRC licensing, registration or other regulatory requirements, with existing policies or with requirements or policies that may be adopted in the future. PRC laws and regulations governing the validity of these contractual arrangements are uncertain and the relevant government authorities have broad discretion in interpreting these laws and regulations.
If our corporate structure and contractual arrangements are deemed by the MIIT or the MOFCOM or other regulators having competent authority to be illegal, either in whole or in part, we may lose control of our VIEs and have to modify such structure to comply with the regulatory requirements. However, there can be no assurance that we can achieve this without material disruption to our business. Further, if our corporate structure and contractual arrangements are found to be in violation of any existing or future PRC laws or regulations, the relevant regulatory authorities would have broad discretion in dealing with such violations, including:
revoking our business and operating licenses;
levying fines on us;
confiscating any of our income that they deem to be obtained through illegal operations;
shutting down our services;
discontinuing or restricting our operations in China;
imposing conditions or requirements with which we may not be able to comply;
requiring us to change our corporate structure and contractual arrangements;
restricting or prohibiting our use of the proceeds from overseas offerings to finance our VIEs’ business and operations; and
taking other regulatory or enforcement actions that could be harmful to our business.
Furthermore, new PRC laws, rules and regulations may be introduced to impose additional requirements that may be applicable to our corporate structure and contractual arrangements. See “—Substantial uncertainties exist with respect to the enactment timetable, interpretation and implementation of the draft PRC Foreign Investment Law, and its enactment may materially and adversely affect our business and financial condition.”
Occurrence of any of these events could materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations. In addition, if the imposition of any of these penalties or requirements to restructure our corporate structure causes us to lose the rights to direct the activities of our VIEs or our right to receive their economic benefits, we would no longer be able to consolidate the financial results of such VIE in our consolidated financial statements. However, we do not believe that such actions would result in the liquidation or dissolution of our company, our wholly-owned subsidiary in China or our VIEs or their subsidiaries. See “Item 4. Information on the Company—C. Organizational Structure.”
Contractual arrangements in relation to our VIEs may be subject to scrutiny by the PRC tax authorities and they may determine that our VIEs owe additional taxes, which could negatively affect our financial condition and the value of our ordinary shares.
Under the applicable PRC laws and regulations, arrangements and transactions among related parties may be subject to audit or challenge by the PRC tax authorities. The PRC Enterprise Income Tax Law requires every enterprise in China to submit its annual enterprise income tax return together with a report on transactions with its related parties to the relevant tax authorities. The tax authorities may impose reasonable adjustments on taxation if they have identified any related party transactions that are inconsistent with arm’s length principles.
We may face material and adverse tax consequences if the PRC tax authorities determine that the contractual arrangements among our wholly-owned PRC subsidiary, our VIEs and their respective shareholders were not entered into on an arm’s length basis in such a way as to result in an impermissible reduction in taxes under the applicable PRC laws, regulations and rules, and adjust their income in the form of a transfer pricing adjustment.
A transfer pricing adjustment could, among other things, result in a reduction of expense deductions recorded by our wholly-owned PRC subsidiary or VIEs for PRC tax purposes, which could in turn increase their tax liabilities without reducing their tax expenses. In addition, if our wholly-owned PRC subsidiary requests the shareholders of our VIEs to transfer their equity interests in our VIEs at nominal or no value pursuant to these contractual arrangements, such transfer could be viewed as a gift and subject the relevant subsidiary to PRC income tax. Furthermore, the PRC tax authorities may impose late payment fees and other penalties on our PRC subsidiary and VIEs for adjusted but unpaid taxes according to applicable regulations. Our financial position could be materially and adversely affected if the tax liabilities of our PRC subsidiary and VIEs increase, or if they are required to pay late payment fees and other penalties.
We may lose the ability to use and enjoy assets held by our VIEs that are material to the operation of our business if either entity goes bankrupt or becomes subject to a dissolution or liquidation proceeding.
Our VIEs hold substantially all of our assets. Under the contractual arrangements, our VIEs may not and their respective shareholders may not cause the VIEs to, in any manner, sell, transfer, mortgage or dispose of the VIEs’ assets or legal or beneficial interests in the business without our prior consent. However, in the event that the shareholders of our VIEs breach these contractual arrangements and voluntarily liquidate our VIEs, or our VIEs declare bankruptcy and all or part of VIEs’ assets become subject to liens or rights of third-party creditors, or are otherwise disposed of without our consent, we may be unable to continue some or all of our business activities, which could materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations. If our VIEs undergo a voluntary or involuntary liquidation proceeding, independent third-party creditors may claim rights to some or all of these assets, thereby hindering our ability to operate our business, which could materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
If the custodians or authorized users of our controlling non-tangible assets, including chops and seals, fail to fulfill their responsibilities, or misappropriate or misuse these assets, our business and operations may be materially and adversely affected.
Under the existing PRC law, legal documents for corporate transactions, including agreements and contracts that our business relies on, are executed using the chop or seal of the signing entity or with the signature of a legal representative whose designation is registered and filed with the relevant local branch of the State Administration for Industry and Commerce, or the SAIC. We generally execute legal documents by affixing chops or seals, rather than having the designated legal representatives sign the documents.
We have three major types of chops: corporate chops, contract chops and finance chops. We use corporate chops generally for documents to be submitted to government agencies, such as applications for changing business scope, directors or company name, and for legal letters. We use contract chops for executing leases and commercial contracts. We use finance chops generally for making and collecting payments, including issuing invoices. The use of corporate chops must be approved by both of our legal department and administrative department, the use of contract chops must be approved by our legal department, and the use of finance chops must be approved by our finance department. The chops of our subsidiaries and VIEs are generally held by the relevant entities so that the documents can be executed locally.
In order to maintain the physical security of our chops, we generally have them stored in secured locations accessible only to the designated key employees of our legal, administrative or finance departments. Our designated legal representatives generally do not have access to the chops. Although we have approval procedures in place and monitor our key employees, including the designated legal representatives of our subsidiaries and VIEs, the procedures may not be sufficient to prevent all instances of abuse or negligence. There is a risk that our key employees or designated legal representatives could abuse their authority, for example, by binding our subsidiaries or VIEs with contracts against our interests, as we would be obligated to honor these contracts if the other contracting party acts in good faith in reliance on the apparent authority of our chops or signatures of our legal representatives. If any designated legal representative obtains control of a chop with an effort to obtain control over the relevant entity, we would need to have a shareholder or board resolution to designate a new legal representative and to take legal actions to seek the return of the chop, apply for a new chop with the relevant authorities, or otherwise seek legal remedies for the legal representative’s misconduct. If any of the designated legal representatives obtains and misuses or misappropriates our chops and seals or other controlling intangible assets for whatever reason, we could experience disruption to our normal business operations. We may have to take corporate or legal actions, which could involve significant time and resources to resolve while distracting management from our operations, and our business prospects and results of operations may be materially and adversely affected.
Substantial uncertainties exist with respect to the interpretation and implementation of the PRC Foreign Investment Law, and it may materially and adversely affect the viability of our current corporate structure, corporate governance and business operations.
On March 15, 2019, the Foreign Investment Law was enacted by the National People’s Congress and it became effective on January 1, 2020. The Foreign Investment Law replaced the Law on Sino-Foreign Equity Joint Ventures, the Law on Sino-Foreign Contractual Joint Ventures and the Law on Foreign-Capital Enterprises to become the legal foundation for foreign investment in the PRC. On December 26, 2019, the Implementing Regulations of the Foreign Investment Law of the People’s Republic of China was promulgated by the State Council and became effective on January 1, 2020. The Foreign Investment Law embodies an expected PRC regulatory trend to rationalize its foreign investment regulatory regime in line with prevailing international practice and the legislative efforts to unify the corporate legal requirements for both foreign and domestic investments.
The “variable interest entity” structure, or VIE structure, has been adopted by many PRC-based companies, including us, to conduct business in the industries that are currently subject to foreign investment restrictions in China. Although the Foreign Investment Law does not explicitly classify the VIE structure as a form of foreign investment, it contains a catch-all provision under the definition of “foreign investment” which includes investments made by foreign investors through means stipulated in laws or administrative regulations or other methods prescribed by the State Council. Therefore, it still reserves certain leeway for future legislation by the State Council to provide the VIE structure as a form of foreign investment, in which case it will be uncertain as to whether our contractual arrangements with our VIEs will be deemed to be in violation of the market access requirements for foreign investments under the PRC laws and regulations, such as the Special Administrative Measures for Foreign Investment Access, or the Negative List, issued by the MOFCOM in June 2020. According to the Guidance Catalog of Industries for Foreign Investment, which was promulgated and as amended from time to time by the MOFCOM and the NDRC, and the Negative List, the provision of internet content services, which we conduct through our VIEs, is subject to foreign investment restrictions. Therefore, such foreign investment restrictions will be imposed on our VIEs if our contractual arrangements with our VIEs are further defined or regarded as a form of foreign investment by any future provisions stipulated in laws or administrative regulations or other methods prescribed by the State Council. In addition, if future laws, administrative regulations or provisions prescribed by the State Council mandate require further actions to be taken by companies with respect to existing contractual arrangements, we may face substantial uncertainties as to whether we could complete such actions in a timely manner, or at all, and our business and financial condition may be materially and adversely affected. Given the foregoing, uncertainties still exist in relation to the interpretation and implementation of the Foreign Investment Law, which may result in an adverse impact on our current corporate structure.
If our contractual arrangements with our VIEs are defined or regarded as a form of foreign investment in the future, our corporate governance practice may be impacted and our compliance costs may increase. For instance, the Foreign Investment Law requires foreign investors or foreign-funded enterprises to submit the investment information to competent governmental authorities for review. Although the contents and scope of such information shall be determined under the principle of necessity and the information that can be obtained through interdepartmental information sharing will not be required to be resubmitted, foreign investors or foreign-funded enterprises which fail to report their investment information as requested will be required to take corrective measures or be subject to fines. Moreover, the Foreign Investment Law provides that a security examination mechanism will be established to examine any foreign investment activity that affects or may affect national security. The decision made upon the security examination may impact the operations of the foreign-funded enterprises.
Risks Related to Doing Business in China
Changes in China’s economic, political or social conditions or government policies could have a material adverse effect on our business and operations.
Substantially all of our assets and operations are located in China. Accordingly, our business, financial condition, results of operations and prospects may be influenced to a significant degree by political, economic and social conditions in China generally.
The Chinese economy differs from the economies of most developed countries in many respects, including the level of government involvement, level of development, growth rate, control of foreign exchange and the allocation of resources. Although the Chinese government has implemented measures emphasizing the utilization of market forces for economic reform, the reduction of state ownership of productive assets and the establishment of improved corporate governance in business enterprises, a substantial portion of productive assets in China is still owned by the government. In addition, the Chinese government continues to play a significant role in regulating industry development by imposing industrial policies. The Chinese government also exercises significant control over China’s economic growth through allocating resources, controlling payment of foreign currency-denominated obligations, setting monetary policy and providing preferential treatment to particular industries or companies.
While the Chinese economy has experienced significant growth over the past decades, growth has been uneven, both geographically and among various sectors of the economy. The Chinese government has implemented various measures to encourage economic growth and guide the allocation of resources. Some of these measures may benefit the overall Chinese economy, but may have a negative effect on us. For example, our financial condition and results of operations may be adversely affected by government control over capital investments or changes in tax regulations. In addition, in the past, the Chinese government has implemented certain measures, including lifting the interest rate and to control the pace of economic growth. These measures may cause the decline of economic activities in China, and since 2012, the Chinese economy has slowed down. Any prolonged slowdown in the Chinese economy may reduce the demand for our products and services, thus materially and adversely affect our business and results of operations.
Uncertainties with respect to the PRC legal system could adversely affect us.
The PRC legal system is based on written statutes and prior court decisions have limited value as precedents. Since these laws and regulations are relatively new and the PRC legal system continues to rapidly evolve, the interpretations of many laws, regulations and rules are not always uniform and enforcement of these laws, regulations and rules involves uncertainties.
In 1979, the PRC government began to promulgate a comprehensive system of laws and regulations governing economic matters in general. The overall effect of legislation over the past four decades has significantly enhanced the protections afforded to various forms of foreign investments in China. However, China has not developed a fully integrated legal system, and recently enacted laws and regulations may not sufficiently cover all aspects of economic activities in China. In particular, the interpretation and enforcement of these laws and regulations involve uncertainties. Since PRC administrative and court authorities have significant discretion in interpreting, implementing and enforcing statutory provisions and contractual terms, it may be more difficult to evaluate the outcome of administrative and court proceedings and the level of legal protection we enjoy than under some more developed legal systems. These uncertainties may affect our decisions on the policies and actions to be taken to comply with the PRC laws and regulations, and may affect our ability to enforce our contractual rights or pursue tort claims. In addition, the regulatory uncertainties may be exploited through unmerited or frivolous legal actions or threats in attempts to extract payments or benefits from us.
Furthermore, the PRC legal system is based in part on government policies and internal rules, some of which are not published on a timely basis or at all and may have a retroactive effect. As a result, we may not be aware of our violation of any of these policies and rules until sometime after the violation. In addition, any administrative and court proceedings in China may be protracted, resulting in substantial costs and diversion of resources and management’s attention.
You may experience difficulties in effecting service of legal process, enforcing foreign judgments or bringing actions in China against us or our management named in this annual report based on foreign laws.
We are a company incorporated under the laws of the Cayman Islands, we conduct all of our operations in China and all of our assets are located in China. In addition, all of our senior executive officers reside within China for a significant portion of the time and most of our directors and senior executive officers are PRC nationals. As a result, it may be difficult for you to effect service of process upon us or those persons inside mainland China. In addition, China does not have treaties providing for the reciprocal recognition and enforcement of judgments of courts with the Cayman Islands and many other countries and regions. Therefore, recognition and enforcement in China regarding the judgments of a court in any of these non-PRC jurisdictions in relation to any matters not subject to a binding arbitration provision may be difficult or even impossible.
We may rely on dividends and other distributions on equity paid by our PRC subsidiaries to fund any cash and financing requirements that we may have, and any limitation on the ability of our PRC subsidiaries to make payments to us could have a material and adverse effect on our ability to conduct our business.
We are a Cayman Islands holding company, and we rely on dividends and other distributions on equity paid by our PRC subsidiaries for our cash and financing requirements, including the funds necessary to pay dividends and other cash distributions to our shareholders and repay any debt that we may incur. The ability of our PRC subsidiaries to distribute dividends is based upon their distributable earnings. Current PRC regulations permit our PRC subsidiaries to pay dividends to their respective shareholders only out of their accumulated profits, if any, which is determined in accordance with the PRC accounting standards and regulations. In addition, according to the PRC Company Law, each of our PRC subsidiaries, as a wholly foreign-owned enterprise in China, is required to set aside at least 10% of its after-tax profits each year, if any, to fund a statutory reserve until the aggregate amount of such reserve reaches 50% of its registered capital. At its discretion, a wholly foreign-owned enterprise may allocate a portion of its after-tax profits based on PRC accounting standards to staff welfare and bonus funds. These reserve funds and staff welfare and bonus funds are not distributable as cash dividends. If our PRC subsidiaries incur debt on their own behalf in the future, the instruments governing the debt may also restrict their ability to pay dividends or make other payments to us. Any limitation on the ability of our PRC subsidiaries to distribute dividends or other payments to their respective shareholders could materially and adversely limit our ability to grow, make investments or acquisitions that could be beneficial to our business, pay dividends or otherwise fund and conduct our business.
In addition, the PRC tax authorities may require our PRC subsidiary that entered into contractual arrangement with our PRC VIEs to adjust its taxable income under the VIE arrangements it currently has in place with our VIEs and their respective shareholders in a manner that would materially and adversely affect its ability to pay dividends and other distributions to us. See “—Risks Related to Our Corporate Structure—Contractual arrangements in relation to our VIEs may be subject to scrutiny by the PRC tax authorities and they may determine that our VIEs owe additional taxes, which could negatively affect our financial condition and the value of our ordinary shares.”
PRC regulation of loans to and direct investment in PRC entities by offshore holding companies and governmental control of currency conversion may cause a delay in or prevent us from using offshore funds to make loans or additional capital contributions to our PRC subsidiaries, which could materially and adversely affect our liquidity and our ability to fund and expand our business.
We are an offshore holding company which primarily conducts our operations in China. Any funds that we transfer to our PRC subsidiaries, either as a shareholder loan or as an increase in registered capital, are subject to the registration or filing with relevant governmental authorities in China.
According to the relevant PRC regulations on FIEs, capital contributions to our PRC subsidiaries are subject to the requirement of making necessary filings in the Foreign Investment Comprehensive Management Information System and registration with other government authorities in China. Any loans to our PRC subsidiaries, which are treated as FIEs under PRC law, are subject to PRC regulations and foreign exchange loan registrations. For example, any foreign loan procured by our PRC subsidiaries is required to be registered with the State Administration of Foreign Exchange, or the SAFE, or its local branches; and our PRC subsidiaries may not procure loans which exceed either the cross-border financing risk weighted balance calculated based on a special formula or the difference between their respective registered capital and their respective total investment amount as approved by, or filed with, the MOFCOM or its local branches. Any medium- or long-term loan to be provided by us to our PRC subsidiaries must be filed and registered with the National Development and Reform Committee, or the NDRC, and the SAFE or their local branches. See “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Regulation—Regulations on Offshore Investment by PRC Residents.” We may not obtain these government approvals or complete such filings or registrations on a timely basis, if at all, with respect to future capital contributions or foreign loans by us to its PRC subsidiaries. If we fail to receive such approvals or complete such registrations, our ability to use offshore funds and to capitalize our PRC operations may be negatively affected, which could adversely affect our liquidity and our ability to fund and expand our business.
On March 30, 2015, the SAFE promulgated the Circular on Reforming the Management Approach Regarding the Foreign Exchange Capital Settlement of Foreign-Invested Enterprises, or SAFE Circular 19. SAFE Circular 19 took effect as of June 1, 2015. SAFE Circular 19 launched a nationwide reform of the administration of the settlement of the foreign exchange capitals of FIEs and allows FIEs to settle their foreign exchange capital at their discretion, but continues to prohibit FIEs from using the Renminbi fund converted from their foreign exchange capital for expenditure beyond their business scopes, providing entrusted loans or repaying loans between non-financial enterprises. On June 9, 2016, the SAFE promulgated the Circular on Reforming and Standardizing the Administrative Provisions on Capital Account Foreign Exchange, or SAFE Circular 16. SAFE Circular 16 reiterates some of the rules set forth in SAFE Circular 19, but changes the prohibition against using Renminbi capital converted from foreign currency-denominated registered capital of an FIE to issue Renminbi entrusted loans to a prohibition against using such capital to issue loans to non-associated enterprises. Violations of these circulars could result in severe monetary or other penalties. SAFE Circular 19 and SAFE Circular 16 may significantly limit our ability to use Renminbi converted from offshore funds to fund the establishment of new entities in China by our VIEs, to invest in or acquire any other PRC companies through our PRC subsidiaries or to establish new consolidated variable interest entities in the PRC, which may adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
We are required to obtain certain licenses and permits for our business operations, and we may not be able to obtain or maintain such licenses or permits.
The PRC government regulates the internet and automotive industries extensively, including through licensing and permit requirements pertaining to companies in these industries. Relevant laws and regulations are relatively new and evolving, and their interpretations and enforcement involve significant uncertainties. As a result, under certain circumstances, it may be difficult to determine what actions or omissions may be deemed as violations of the applicable laws and regulations.
We provide VATS through Shanghai Jieying, as Shanghai Jieying possesses an ICP License, which is required for the provision of VATS. Failure to obtain, maintain or renew the ICP License and other required licenses may significantly disrupt our business, subject us to sanctions, or have other material adverse effects on us.
To enable our customers to receive vehicles purchased from our Dealerships and other in-network dealers, we rely initially on the use of our own capital during the waiting period between customers and our financing partners. As our financing partners generally approve and release funds within a period of up to a few weeks to a Dealership or in-network dealer, we first release the funds in advance to the relevant Dealership or in-network dealership so that it can in turn release vehicles to its customers earlier than would otherwise be the case. As the vehicle purchase loan relationship is ultimately between the relevant customers and our financing partners, we do not consider our service as constituting a financial service requiring us to obtain any approval or license. However, we cannot assure you that relevant PRC government agencies would reach the same conclusion. As of the date of this annual report, we have not been subject to any fines or other penalties under any PRC laws or regulations related to the foregoing solutions we provide. However, given the evolving regulatory environment of the financial industry, we cannot assure you that we will not be required in the future by relevant governmental authorities to obtain approval or license to continue to provide such interim financing solutions used to speed up the vehicle purchasing procedure.
In addition, pursuant to relevant laws and regulations, as Shanghai Jieying and our Dealerships are regarded as operators of used car sales business, these entities are required to complete filing with the MOFCOM at the provincial level. We may fail to complete such filings in certain locations since the relevant authorities in those areas do not accept such filing application in practice due to the lack of local implementation rules and policies in such respects. We plan to submit our filing application as soon as the relevant governmental authorities are ready to accept such application. However, we cannot assure you that we can successfully complete the filing in a timely manner, or at all. Failure to comply with the filing requirements may subject our business to restrictions. As a result, our business and results of operations may be materially and adversely affected.
Under the existing PRC laws and regulations, companies responsible for the construction projects are required to prepare environmental impact reports, environmental impact statements, or environmental impact registration forms based on the level of potential environmental impact of the projects. Environmental impact reports (required in the case of potentially serious environmental impact) and environmental impact statements (required in the case of potentially mild environmental impact) are subject to review and approval by the applicable governmental authorities and the failure to satisfy such requirements may result in the discontinuation of the construction projects, imposing fines of 1% to 5% of the total investment in the projects or an order of restoration. Environmental impact registration forms (required in the case of very little environmental impact) are required to be filed with the competent authority and failure to satisfy such requirement may result in the imposition of fines up to RMB50,000 (US$7,971). We do not regularly conduct construction projects in the ordinary course of our business. However, some of our projects, including the building and overall decoration of our after- sales service centers, could be deemed as construction projects where a timely filing or submission for approval is required and failure to do so may subject us to fines and other enforcement actions as mentioned above.
Considerable uncertainties exist regarding the interpretation and implementation of existing and future laws and regulations governing our business activities. If we fail to complete, obtain or maintain any of the required licenses or approvals or make necessary filings, we may be subject to various penalties, such as confiscation of illegal gains, imposition of fines and discontinuation or restriction of our operations. Any such penalties may disrupt our business operations and adversely affect our business, financial condition and operations.
Fluctuations in exchange rates could have a material and adverse effect on our results of operations and the value of our ordinary shares.
The value of the Renminbi against the U.S. dollar and other currencies may fluctuate and is affected by, among other things, changes in political and economic conditions in China and by China’s foreign exchange policies. On July 21, 2005, the PRC government changed its decade-old policy of pegging the value of the Renminbi to the U.S. dollar, and the Renminbi appreciated more than 20% against the U.S. dollar over the following three years. Between July 2008 and June 2010, this appreciation halted and the exchange rate between the Renminbi and the U.S. dollar remained within a narrow band. Since June 2010, the Renminbi has fluctuated against the U.S. dollar, at times significantly and unpredictably. On November 30, 2015, the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund completed the regular five-year review of the basket of currencies that make up the Special Drawing Right, or the SDR, and decided that with effect from October 1, 2016, the Renminbi is determined to be a freely usable currency and will be included in the SDR basket as a fifth currency, along with the U.S. dollar, the Euro, the Japanese yen and the British pound. In the fourth quarter of 2016, the Renminbi depreciated significantly in the backdrop of a surging U.S. dollar and persistent capital outflows of China. With the development of the foreign exchange market and progress towards interest rate liberalization and Renminbi internationalization, the PRC government may in the future announce further changes to the exchange rate system, and we cannot assure you that the Renminbi will not appreciate or depreciate significantly in value against the U.S. dollar in the future. It is difficult to predict how market forces, PRC or U.S. government policy may impact the exchange rate between the Renminbi and the U.S. dollar in the future.
Our revenues and costs are mostly denominated in Renminbi. Significant revaluation of the Renminbi may have a material and adverse effect on the value of our ordinary shares. For example, to the extent that we need to convert U.S. dollars into Renminbi for our operations, appreciation of the Renminbi against the U.S. dollar would have an adverse effect on the Renminbi amount we would receive from the conversion. Conversely, if we decide to convert our Renminbi into U.S. dollars for the purpose of making payments for dividends on our ordinary shares or for other business purposes, appreciation of the U.S. dollar against the Renminbi would have a negative effect on the U.S. dollar amount available to us. In addition, appreciation or depreciation in the value of the Renminbi relative to U.S. dollars would affect our financial results reported in U.S. dollar terms regardless of any underlying change in its business or results of operations.
Very limited hedging options are available in China to reduce our exposure to exchange rate fluctuations. To date, we have not entered into any hedging transactions with an effort to reduce our exposure to foreign currency exchange risk. While we may decide to enter into hedging transactions in the future, the availability and effectiveness of these hedges may be limited, and we may not be able to adequately hedge our exposure, or at all. In addition, our currency exchange losses may be magnified by the PRC exchange control regulations that restrict our ability to convert Renminbi into foreign currency.
Governmental control of currency conversion may limit our ability to utilize our revenues effectively and affect the value of our ordinary shares.
The PRC government imposes controls on the convertibility of the Renminbi into foreign currencies and, in certain cases, the remittance of currency out of China. Historically we received all of our revenues in Renminbi. Under our current corporate structure, our Cayman Islands holding company primarily relies on the dividend payments from our PRC subsidiaries to fund any cash and financing requirements that we may have. Under the existing PRC foreign exchange regulations, payments of current account items, including profit distributions, interest payments, trade and service-related foreign exchange transactions, can be all made in foreign currencies without prior approval of the SAFE by complying with certain procedural requirements. Specifically, under the existing exchange restrictions, without prior approval of the SAFE, cash generated from the operations of our PRC subsidiaries in China may be used to pay dividends to us. However, approval from or registration with appropriate government authorities is required where Renminbi is to be converted into foreign currency and remitted out of China to pay capital expenses such as the repayment of loans denominated in foreign currencies. As a result, we need to obtain SAFE approval to use cash generated from the operations of our PRC subsidiaries and VIEs to pay off their respective debt in a currency other than Renminbi owed to entities outside China, or to make other capital expenditure payments outside China in a currency other than Renminbi.
In light of the substantial capital outflows of China in 2016 due to the weakening Renminbi, the PRC government has imposed more restrictive foreign exchange policies and stepped up scrutiny of major outbound capital movement. More restrictions and substantial vetting process are put in place by the SAFE to regulate cross-border transactions falling under the capital account. The PRC government may at its discretion further restrict access in the future to foreign currencies for current account transactions. If the foreign exchange control system prevents us from obtaining sufficient foreign currencies to satisfy our foreign currency demands, we may not be able to pay dividends in foreign currencies to our shareholders.
Certain PRC regulations may make it more difficult for us to pursue growth through acquisitions.
The Regulations on Mergers and Acquisitions of Domestic Enterprises by Foreign Investors, or the M&A Rules, adopted by six PRC regulatory agencies in 2006 and amended in 2009, and some other regulations and rules concerning mergers and acquisitions established additional procedures and requirements that could make merger and acquisition activities by foreign investors more time-consuming and complex. Such regulations require, among other things, that the MOFCOM be notified in advance of any change-of-control transaction in which a foreign investor acquires control of a PRC domestic enterprise, if (i) any important industry is concerned; (ii) such transaction involves factors that impact or may impact national economic security; or (iii) such transaction will lead to a change in the control of a domestic enterprise which holds a famous trademark or PRC time-honored brand. Moreover, the Anti-Monopoly Law that became effective in 2008 requires that transactions that are deemed concentrations and involve parties with specified turnover thresholds must be cleared by the MOFCOM before they can be completed. In addition, PRC national security review rules, consisting of the Provisions of MOFCOM on Implementation of Security Review System for Mergers and Acquisitions of Domestic Enterprises by Foreign Investors, which became effective in September 2011, and the Notice of the General Office of the State Council on Establishment of Security Review System pertaining to Mergers and Acquisitions of Domestic Enterprises by Foreign Investors, which became effective in March 2011, require acquisitions by foreign investors of PRC companies engaged in military-related or certain other industries that are crucial to national security be subject to security review before consummation of any such acquisition. In the future, we may grow our business by acquiring complementary businesses. Complying with the requirements of these regulations to complete such transactions could be time-consuming, and any required approval processes, including obtaining approval or clearance from the MOFCOM, may delay or inhibit our ability to complete such transactions, which could affect its ability to expand its business or maintain its market share.
Any failure by us to make full contributions to various employee benefit plans as required by PRC laws may expose us to potential penalties.
Companies operating in China are required to participate in various government sponsored employee benefit plans, including certain social insurance schemes and housing funds, and contribute to the plans in amounts equal to certain percentages of salaries, including bonuses and allowances, of the employees up to a maximum amount specified by the local governments from time to time at locations where they operate businesses. The requirement of employee benefit plans has not been implemented consistently by the local governments in China given the different levels of economic development in different locations. We did not pay, or were not able to pay, certain past social security and housing fund contributions in strict compliance with the relevant PRC regulations for and on behalf of our employees due to differences in local regulations and inconsistent implementation or interpretation by local authorities in the PRC. For example, we engage third-party agents to make contributions for our employees in some cities and failure to make such contributions directly may expose us to penalties by the local authorities. We may also incur additional costs for any alternative arrangement if we were asked to terminate any existing arrangements with the third-party agents.
PRC regulations relating to offshore investment activities by PRC residents may limit the ability of our PRC subsidiaries to increase their registered capital or distribute profits to us or otherwise expose us or our PRC resident beneficial owners to liability and penalties under PRC laws.
In July 2014, the SAFE promulgated the Circular on Relevant Issues Concerning Foreign Exchange Control on Domestic Residents’ Offshore Investment and Financing and Roundtrip Investment Through Special Purpose Vehicles, or SAFE Circular 37. SAFE Circular 37 requires PRC residents (including PRC individuals and PRC corporate entities) to register with the SAFE or its local branches in connection with their direct or indirect offshore investment activities. SAFE Circular 37 further requires amendment to the SAFE registrations in the event of any changes with respect to the basic information of the offshore special purpose vehicle, such as the change of a PRC individual shareholder, name and operation term, or any significant changes with respect to the offshore special purpose vehicle, such as the increase or decrease of capital contributions, share transfer or exchange, or mergers or divisions. SAFE Circular 37 is applicable to our shareholders who are PRC residents.
If our shareholders who are PRC residents fail to make the required registration or to update the previously filed registration, our PRC subsidiaries may be prohibited from distributing their profits or the proceeds from any capital reduction, share transfer or liquidation to us, and we may also be prohibited from making additional capital contributions into our PRC subsidiaries. On February 13, 2015, the SAFE promulgated a Notice on Further Simplifying and Improving Foreign Exchange Administration Policy on Direct Investment, or SAFE Notice 13, which became effective on June 1, 2015. Under SAFE Notice 13, applications for foreign exchange registration of inbound foreign direct investments and outbound overseas direct investments, including those required under SAFE Circular 37, should be filed with qualified banks instead of the SAFE. The qualified banks will directly examine the applications and accept registrations under the supervision of the SAFE.
We have urged all of our shareholders who, to our knowledge, are subject to the SAFE regulations to register with the local SAFE branch. There can be no assurance, however, that all of these shareholders will continue to make required filings or updates on a timely manner, or at all. Furthermore, there can be no assurance that we are or will in the future continue to be informed of the identities of all the PRC residents holding direct or indirect interest in us. Any failure or inability by such shareholders to comply with the SAFE regulations may prevent us from making distributions or paying dividends or subject us to fines or legal sanctions. For example, there may be restrictions on our ability to engage in cross-border investment activities or the ability of our PRC subsidiaries to distribute dividends to, or obtain loans denominated in foreign curries from, us. As a result, our business operations and our ability to make distributions to shareholders could be materially and adversely affected.
In August 2014, the MOFCOM promulgated the Measures for the Administration of Overseas Investment, and the NDRC promulgated the Administrative Measures for the Approval and Filing of Overseas Investment Projects. In December 2017, the NDRC further promulgated the Administrative Measures of Overseas Investment of Enterprises, which became effective in March 2018. Pursuant to these regulations, any outbound investment of PRC enterprises in the area and industry that are not sensitive is required to be filed with the MOFCOM and the NDRC or their local branches.
Any failure or inability by enterprises to comply with SAFE and outbound investment related regulations may subject the responsible officers of such enterprises to fines or legal sanctions, and may result in adverse impact on us, such as restrictions on the ability to contribute capital and receive dividends.
Any failure to comply with the PRC regulations regarding the registration requirements for employee stock incentive plans may subject the PRC plan participants or us to fines and other legal or administrative sanctions.
In February 2012, the SAFE promulgated the Notices on Issues Concerning the Foreign Exchange Administration for Domestic Individuals Participating in Stock Incentive Plan of Overseas Publicly Listed Company. Pursuant to these rules, PRC citizens and non-PRC citizens who reside in China for a continuous period of not less than one year who participate in any stock incentive plan of an overseas publicly listed company, subject to a few exceptions, are required to register with the SAFE through a domestic qualified agent, which could be the PRC subsidiaries of such overseas-listed company, and complete certain other procedures. In addition, an overseas-entrusted institution must be retained to handle matters in connection with the exercise or sale of stock options and the purchase or sale of shares and interests. We and our directors, executive officers and other employees who are PRC citizens or who reside in the PRC for a continuous period of not less than one year and who have been granted options are subject to these regulations. Failure to complete the SAFE registrations may subject them to fines and legal sanctions, and may also limit our ability to contribute additional capital into our PRC subsidiaries and limit our PRC subsidiaries’ ability to distribute dividends to us. We also face regulatory uncertainties that could restrict our ability to adopt additional incentive plans for our directors, executive officers and employees under the PRC law. See “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Regulation—Regulations on Employee Stock Options Plans.”
In addition, the State Administration of Taxation, or the SAT, has issued certain circulars concerning employee share options and restricted shares. Under these circulars, our employees working in China who exercise share options or are granted restricted shares will be subject to PRC individual income tax. Our PRC subsidiaries have obligations to file documents related to employee share options or restricted shares with relevant tax authorities and to withhold individual income taxes of those employees who exercise their share options. If our employees fail to pay or we fail to withhold their income taxes according to the relevant laws and regulations, we may face sanctions which imposed by the tax authorities or other PRC governmental authorities. See “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Regulation—Regulations on Employee Stock Options Plans.”
If we are classified as a PRC resident enterprise for PRC income tax purposes, such classification could result in unfavorable tax consequences to us and our non-PRC shareholders.
Under the Enterprise Income Tax Law and its implementation rules, enterprises that are registered in countries or regions outside the PRC but have their “de facto management bodies” located within China may be considered as PRC resident enterprises and are therefore subject to PRC enterprise income tax at the rate of 25% on their worldwide income. For detailed discussions of the applicable laws, regulations and implementation rules, see “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Regulation—Regulations on Taxation—Enterprise Income Tax.”
We believe that none of our entities outside China is a PRC resident enterprise for PRC tax purposes. See “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Regulation—Regulations on Taxation—Enterprise Income Tax.” However, the tax resident status of an enterprise is subject to determination by the PRC tax authorities, and uncertainties remain with respect to the interpretation of the term “de facto management body.” If the PRC tax authorities determine that we or any of our subsidiaries outside of China is a PRC resident enterprise for enterprise income tax purposes, then we or any such subsidiaries could be subject to PRC tax at a rate of 25% on worldwide income, which could materially reduce our net income. In addition, we would also be subject to PRC enterprise income tax reporting obligations. Furthermore, if the PRC tax authorities determine that we are a PRC resident enterprise for enterprise income tax purposes, gains realized on the sale or other disposition of our ordinary shares and dividends distributed to its non-PRC shareholders may be subject to PRC withholding tax, at a rate of 10% in the case of non-PRC enterprises or 20% in the case of non-PRC individuals (in each case, subject to the provisions of any applicable tax treaty), if such gains are deemed to be from PRC sources. Any such tax may reduce the value of our ordinary shares.
We face uncertainty with respect to indirect transfers of equity interests in PRC resident enterprises by their non-PRC holding companies, and heightened scrutiny over acquisition transactions by the PRC tax authorities may have a negative impact on potential acquisitions that we may pursue in the future.
The SAT has issued several rules and notices to tighten the scrutiny over acquisition transactions in recent years, including the Notice on Certain Corporate Income Tax Matters Related to Indirect Transfer of Properties by Non-PRC Resident Enterprises issued in February 2015 and amended in 2017, or SAT Circular 7, and the Announcement on Issues Relating to Withholding at Source of Income Tax of Non-resident Enterprises, or SAT Circular 37. Pursuant to these rules and notices, except for a few circumstances falling into the scope of the safe harbor provided by SAT Circular 7, such as open market trading of stocks in public companies listed overseas, if a non-PRC resident enterprise indirectly transfers PRC taxable properties (that is, properties of an establishment or a place in the PRC, real estate properties in the PRC or equity investments in a PRC tax resident enterprise) by disposing of equity interests or other similar rights in an overseas holding company, without a reasonable commercial purpose and resulting in the avoidance of PRC enterprise income tax, such indirect transfer should be deemed as a direct transfer of PRC taxable properties and gains derived from such indirect transfer may be subject to the PRC withholding tax at a rate of up to 10%. SAT Circular 7 sets out several factors to be taken into consideration by tax authorities in determining whether an indirect transfer has a reasonable commercial purpose, such as whether the main value of equity interests in an overseas holding company is derived directly or indirectly from PRC taxable properties. An indirect transfer satisfying all the following criteria will be deemed to lack reasonable commercial purpose and be taxable under PRC law without considering other factors set out by SAT Circular 7: (i) 75% or more of the equity value of the intermediary enterprise being transferred is derived directly or indirectly from the PRC taxable properties; (ii) at any time during the one-year period before the indirect transfer, 90% or more of the asset value of the intermediary enterprise (excluding cash) is comprised directly or indirectly of investments in the PRC, or 90% or more of its income is derived directly or indirectly from the PRC; (iii) the functions performed and risks assumed by the intermediary enterprise and any of its subsidiaries that directly or indirectly hold the PRC taxable properties are limited and are insufficient to prove their economic substance; and (iv) the foreign tax payable on the gain derived from the indirect transfer of the PRC taxable properties is lower than the potential PRC income tax on the direct transfer of such assets. Each of the foreign transferor and the transferee, and the PRC tax resident enterprise whose equity interests are being transferred may voluntarily report the transfer by submitting the documents required in SAT Circular 7.
Although SAT Circular 7 provides clarity in many important areas, such as reasonable commercial purpose, there are still uncertainties on the tax reporting and payment obligations with respect to future private equity financing transactions, share exchange or other transactions involving the transfer of shares in non-PRC resident companies. The PRC tax authorities have discretion under SAT Circular 7 to make adjustments to the taxable capital gains based on the difference between the fair value of the equity interests transferred and the cost of investments. We may pursue acquisitions in the future that may involve complex corporate structures. If we are considered a non-PRC resident enterprise under the PRC Enterprise Income Tax Law and if the PRC tax authorities make adjustments to the taxable income of these transactions under SAT Circular 7, our income tax expenses associated with such potential acquisitions will increase, which may adversely affect our financial condition and results of operations.
SAT Circular 37 took effect on December 1, 2017. SAT Circular 37 purports to clarify certain issues in the implementation of the above regime, by providing, among other things, the definition of equity transfer income and tax basis, the foreign exchange rate to be used in the calculation of withholding amount, and the date of occurrence of the withholding obligation.
We have conducted and may in the future conduct acquisitions or restructuring that may be subject to the aforesaid tax regulations. There can be no assurance that the PRC tax authorities will not, at their discretion, impose tax return filing obligations on us or our subsidiaries, require us or our subsidiaries to provide assistance to an investigation conducted by the PRC tax authorities with respect to these transactions or adjust any capital gains. Any PRC tax imposed on a transfer of our shares or equity interests in our PRC subsidiaries, or any adjustment of such gains, would cause us to incur additional costs and may have a negative impact on our results of operations.
We face certain risks related to the real properties that we lease.
We lease offices, showrooms and warehouse spaces from third parties for our operations in China. Any defects in lessors’ title to the leased properties may disrupt the use of such offices, showrooms or warehouses, which may in turn adversely affect our business operations. For example, certain buildings and the underlying land are not allowed to be used for industrial or commercial purposes without relevant authorities’ approval, and the lease of such buildings to companies like us may subject the lessor to pay premium fees to the PRC government. There can be no assurance that the lessor has obtained all or any approvals from the relevant governmental authorities. In addition, some of our lessors have not provided us with documentation evidencing their title to the relevant leased properties. There can be no assurance that title to these properties which we currently lease will not be challenged. In addition, we have not registered any of our lease agreements with the relevant PRC governmental authorities as required by the PRC law, and although failure to do so does not invalidate the leases per se, we may not be able to defend these leases against bona fide third parties.
We are not aware of any actions, claims or investigations being contemplated by governmental authorities with respect to the defects in our leased real properties or any challenges by third parties to our use of these properties. However, if third parties who purport to be property owners or beneficiaries of the mortgaged properties challenge our right to use the leased properties, we may not be able to protect our leasehold interests and may be ordered to vacate the affected premises, thus materially and adversely affect our business and operating results.
The 2018 audit reports included in this annual report are prepared by Deloite who are not inspected by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, and as such, you are deprived of the benefits of such inspection.
Deloitte, our independent registered public accounting firm that issue the 2018 audit reports included in this annual report, as an auditor of companies that are traded publicly in the United States and a firm registered with the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, or the PCAOB, are required by the laws of the United States to undergo regular inspections by the PCAOB to assess its compliance with the laws of the United States and professional standards. Since our auditors are located in China, a jurisdiction where the PCAOB is currently unable to conduct inspections without the approval of the Chinese authorities, our auditors are not currently inspected by the PCAOB.
On December 7, 2018, the SEC and the PCAOB issued a joint statement highlighting continued challenges faced by the U.S. regulators in their oversight of financial statement audits of U.S.-listed companies with significant operations in China. On April 21, 2020, the SEC and the PCAOB issued another joint statement highlighting the significant disclosure, financial reporting and other risks associated with emerging market investments, including the PCAOB’s continued inability to inspect audit work papers in China. These joint statements reflect a heightened interest in an issue that has vexed U.S. regulators in recent years. However, it remains unclear what further actions the SEC and the PCAOB will take to address the problem and its impact on the Chinese companies which listed in the United States.
Inspections of other firms that the PCAOB has conducted outside of China have identified deficiencies in those firms’ audit procedures and quality control procedures, which may be addressed as part of the inspection process to improve future audit quality. This lack of PCAOB inspections in China prevents the PCAOB from regularly evaluating our auditors’ audits and its quality control procedures. As a result, investors may be deprived of the benefits of PCAOB inspections.
The inability of the PCAOB to conduct inspections of auditors in China makes it more difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of audit procedures or quality control procedures of the Chinese member firms of the “Big Four” accounting firms as compared to auditors outside of China that are subject to PCAOB inspections. Investors may lose confidence in our reported financial information and procedures and the quality of its financial statements.
As part of a continued regulatory focus in the United States on access to audit and other information currently protected by national law, in particular China’s, in June 2019, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced bills in both houses of the U.S. Congress, which if passed, would require the SEC to maintain a list of issuers for which the PCAOB is not able to inspect or investigate an auditor report issued by a foreign public accounting firm. The proposed Ensuring Quality Information and Transparency for Abroad-Based Listings on our Exchanges (EQUITABLE) Act prescribes increased disclosure requirements for these issuers and, beginning in 2025, the delisting from U.S. national securities exchanges such as the Nasdaq Global Select Market of issuers included on the SEC’s list for three consecutive years. On May 20, 2020, the U.S. Senate passed S. 945, the Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act (HFCA), or the Kennedy Bill. The HFCA was enacted after being signed by the President on December 18, 2020. HFCA amends the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 to direct the SEC to prohibit securities of any registrant from being listed on any of the U.S. securities exchanges or traded “over-the-counter” if the auditor of the registrant’s financial statements is not subject to the PCAOB inspection for three consecutive years after the law becomes effective. Enactment of such legislations or other efforts to increase U.S. regulatory access to audit information would cause investors’ uncertainties for affected issuers, including us, and the market price of our ordinary shares could be adversely affected, and we could be delisted if we are unable to cure the situation to meet the PCAOB inspection requirement in time. Furthermore, there have been recent media reports on deliberations within the U.S. government regarding potentially limiting or restricting China-based companies from accessing U.S. capital markets. If any such deliberations were to materialize, the resulting legislation may have material and adverse impact on the stock performance of China-based issuers listed in the United States.
Proceedings instituted by the SEC against certain China-based accounting firms, including our independent registered public accounting firm, could result in financial statements being determined to not be in compliance with the requirements of the Exchange Act.
Deloitte China served as the principal auditor for our consolidated annual financial statement for the year ended on December 31, 2018. Marcum Bernstein & Pinchuk LLP serves as the principal auditor for our consolidated annual financial statement for the two years ended on December 31, 2019 and December 31,2020. Marcum Bernstein & Pinchuk LLP is not a Chinese member firm of the “Big Four” accounting firms.
In January 2014, Judge Cameron Elliot, a SEC administrative law judge, issued an initial decision suspending the Chinese member firms of the “Big Four” accounting firms, including our independent registered public accounting firm, from, among other things, practicing before the SEC for six months. In February 2014, the initial decision was appealed. While under appeal and in February 2015, the Chinese member firms of “Big Four” accounting firms reached a settlement with the SEC. As part of the settlement, each of the Chinese member firms of “Big Four” accounting firms agreed to settlement terms that include a censure; undertakings to make a payment to the SEC; procedures and undertakings as to future requests for documents by the SEC; and possible additional proceedings and remedies should those undertakings not be adhered to.
Had the settlement terms not been adhered to, Chinese member firms of “Big Four” accounting firms could have been suspended from practicing before the SEC which could in turn delay the timely filing of our financial statements with the SEC. In addition, it could be difficult for us to timely identify and engage another registered public accounting firm to audit and issue an opinion on our financial statements. A delinquency in our filings with the SEC may result in the delisting of our shares from the Nasdaq Capital Market or deregistration from the SEC, or both, which would substantially reduce or effectively terminate the trading of our shares in the United States and could adversely harm our reputation and adversely affect our business and prospects.
Risks Related to Our Ordinary Shares
The market price movement of our ordinary shares may be volatile.
The trading prices of our ordinary shares are likely to be volatile and could fluctuate widely due to factors beyond our control. This may happen because of the broad market and industry factors, such as the performance and fluctuation in the market prices or the underperformance or deteriorating financial results of other listed companies based in China. The securities of some of these companies have experienced significant volatility since their initial public offerings, including, in some cases, substantial price declines in the trading prices of their securities. The trading performances of other Chinese companies’ securities after their offerings, including internet companies, online retail and mobile commerce platforms and consumer finance service providers, may affect the attitudes of investors towards Chinese companies listed in the United States, which consequently may impact the trading performance of our ordinary shares, regardless of our actual operating performance. In addition, any negative news or perceptions about inadequate corporate governance practices or fraudulent accounting, corporate structure or matters of other Chinese companies may also negatively affect the attitudes of investors towards Chinese companies as a whole, including us, regardless of whether we have conducted any inappropriate activities. Furthermore, securities markets may from time to time experience significant price and volume fluctuations that are not related to our operating performance, such as the large decline in share prices in the United States, China and other jurisdictions in late 2008, early 2009, the second half of 2011 and in 2015, which may have a material and adverse effect on the trading price of our ordinary shares.
In addition to the above factors, the price and trading volume of our ordinary shares may be highly volatile due to multiple factors, including the following:
regulatory developments affecting us or our industry;
announcements of studies and reports relating to the quality of our service offerings or those of our competitors;
changes in the economic performance or market valuations of other automobile retailers;
actual or anticipated fluctuations in our quarterly results of operations and changes or revisions of our expected results;
changes in financial estimates by securities research analysts;
conditions in the market for automobile retailers;
|●||announcements by us or our competitors of new product and service offerings, acquisitions, strategic relationships, joint ventures, capital raisings or capital commitments;|
announcements and implementation of business mergers and acquisitions, including the pending merger with Haitaoche Limited;
additions to or departures of our senior management;
fluctuations of exchange rates between the Renminbi and the U.S. dollar; and
release or expiry of lock-up or other transfer restrictions on our outstanding shares, and sales or perceived potential sales of additional ordinary shares.
The sale or availability for sale of substantial amounts of our ordinary shares could adversely affect their market price.
Sales of substantial amounts of our ordinary shares in the public market, or the perception that these sales could occur, may adversely affect the market price of our ordinary shares. As of April 30, 2021, we had 67,424,993 ordinary shares outstanding, including 18,611,193 ordinary shares that are freely transferable without restriction or additional registration under the Securities Act. The remaining ordinary shares outstanding will be available for sale, subject to volumes and other restrictions as applicable under Rules 144 and 701 of the Securities Act. Certain holders of our ordinary shares may cause us to register under the Securities Act of the sale of their shares. Sales of these registered shares in the public market could adversely affect the market price of our ordinary shares.
If securities or industry analysts cease to publish research or reports about our business, or if they adversely change their recommendations regarding our ordinary shares, the market price for our ordinary shares and trading volume could decline.
The trading market for our ordinary shares will depend in part on the research and reports that securities or industry analysts publish about us or our business. If research analysts do not establish and maintain adequate research coverage or if one or more of the analysts who covers us downgrades our ordinary shares or publishes inaccurate or unfavorable research about our business, the market price for our ordinary shares would likely decline. If analysts fail to publish reports on us regularly, we could lose visibility in the financial markets, which, in turn, could cause the market price or trading volume for our ordinary shares to decline.
Because we do not expect to pay dividends in the foreseeable future, you must rely on price appreciation of our ordinary shares for return on your investment.
We currently intend to retain most, if not all, of our available funds and any future earnings to fund the development and growth of our business. As a result, we do not expect to pay any cash dividends in the foreseeable future. Therefore, you should not rely on an investment in our ordinary shares as a source for any future dividend income.
Our board of directors has complete discretion as to whether to distribute dividends, subject to certain restrictions under Cayman Islands law, namely that our company may only pay dividends out of profits or share premium account, and provided that in no circumstances may a dividend be paid if this would result in our company being unable to pay its debts as they fall due in the ordinary course of business. In addition, our shareholders may by ordinary resolution declare a dividend, but no dividend may exceed the amount recommended by our board of directors. Even if our board of directors decides to declare and pay dividends, the timing, amount and form of future dividends, if any, will depend on, among other things, our future results of operations and cash flow, our capital requirements and surplus, the amount of distributions, if any, received by us from our subsidiaries, our financial condition, contractual restrictions and other factors deemed relevant by our board of directors. Accordingly, the return on your investment in our ordinary shares will likely depend entirely upon any future price appreciation of our ordinary shares. There is no guarantee that our ordinary shares will appreciate in value or even maintain the price at which you purchased our ordinary shares. You may not realize a return on your investment in our ordinary shares and you may even lose your entire investment in our ordinary shares.
We may need additional capital, and the sale of additional ordinary shares or other equity securities could result in the additional dilution to our shareholders, while the incurrence of debt may impose restrictions on our operations.
We may require additional cash resources due to changing business conditions or other future developments, including any investments or acquisitions that we may decide to pursue. If these resources are insufficient to satisfy our cash requirements, we may seek to sell equity or debt securities or obtain a credit facility. The sale of equity securities would result in dilution to our shareholders. The incurrence of indebtedness would result in the increased debt service obligations and could require us to agree to operating and financing covenants that would restrict our operations. We cannot assure you that financing will be available in amounts or on terms acceptable to us, if at all.
Our memorandum and articles of association contain anti-takeover provisions that could adversely affect the rights of holders of our ordinary shares.
Our current memorandum and articles of association contain provisions to limit the ability of others to acquire control of our company or cause us to engage in change-of-control transactions, including a provision that grants authority to our board of directors to establish and issue from time to time one or more series of preferred shares without action by our shareholders and to determine, with respect to any series of preferred shares, the terms and rights of that series, any or all which may be greater than the rights associated with our ordinary shares. These provisions could have the effect of depriving our shareholders of an opportunity to sell their shares at a premium over prevailing market prices by discouraging third parties from seeking to obtain control of our company in a tender offer or similar transaction. For example, our board of directors has the authority, without further action by our shareholders, to issue preferred shares in one or more series and to fix their designations, powers, preferences, privileges, and relative participating, optional or special rights and the qualifications, limitations or restrictions, including dividend rights, conversion rights, voting rights, terms of redemption and liquidation preferences, any or all of which may be greater than the rights associated with our ordinary shares. Preferred shares could be issued quickly with terms calculated to delay or prevent a change in control of our company or make removal of management more difficult. If our board of directors decides to issue preferred shares, the price of our ordinary shares may fall and the voting and other rights of the holders of our ordinary shares may be materially and adversely affected.
We are a foreign private issuer within the meaning of the rules under the Exchange Act, and as such we are exempt from certain provisions applicable to United States domestic public companies.
Because we are a foreign private issuer under the Exchange Act, we are exempt from certain provisions of the securities rules and regulations in the United States that are applicable to U.S. domestic issuers, including:
the rules under the Exchange Act requiring the filing of quarterly reports on Form 10-Q or current reports on Form 8-K with the SEC;
the sections of the Exchange Act regulating the solicitation of proxies, consents, or authorizations in respect of a security registered under the Exchange Act;
the sections of the Exchange Act requiring insiders to file public reports of their stock ownership and trading activities and liability for insiders who profit from trades made in a short period of time; and
the selective disclosure rules by issuers of material non-public information under Regulation FD.
We are required to file an annual report on Form 20-F within four months of the end of each fiscal year. In addition, we intend to publish our results on a quarterly basis through press releases, distributed pursuant to the rules and regulations of the Nasdaq Stock Market. Press releases relating to financial results and material events will also be furnished to the SEC on Form 6-K. However, the information we are required to file with or furnish to the SEC will be less extensive and less timely compared to that required to be filed with the SEC by U.S. domestic issuers. As a result, you may not be afforded the same protections or information which would be made available to you were you investing in a U.S. domestic issuer.
If we are a passive foreign investment company for U.S. federal income tax purposes for any taxable year, U.S. holders of our ordinary shares could be subject to adverse U.S. federal income tax consequences.
A non-United States corporation will be a passive foreign investment company, or PFIC, for U.S. federal income tax purposes for any taxable year if either: (i) at least 75% of its gross income for such year is passive income; or (ii) at least 50% of the value of its assets (based on an average of the quarterly values of the assets) during such year is attributable to assets that produce or are held for the production of passive income. A separate determination must be made after the close of each taxable year as to whether a non-United States corporation is a PFIC for that year. Although the law in this regard is unclear, we intend to treat our VIE (and its subsidiaries) as being owned by us for U.S. federal income tax purposes, not only because we exercise effective control over the operations of such entities but also because we are entitled to substantially all of their economic benefits, and, as a result, we consolidate their results of operations in our consolidated financial statements. Assuming that we are the owner of our VIE (and its subsidiaries) for U.S. federal income tax purposes, and based upon our current and expected income and assets, including goodwill and other unbooked intangibles, and the market value of our ordinary shares, we do not believe that we were a PFIC for U.S. federal income tax purposes for the taxable year ended December 31, 2020 and we do not expect to be a PFIC for the current taxable year or in the foreseeable future.
While we do not expect to become a PFIC, because the value of our assets for purposes of the asset test may be determined by reference to the market price of our ordinary shares, fluctuations in the market price of our ordinary shares may cause us to become a PFIC for the current or subsequent taxable years. Further, if it were determined that we do not own the stock of our VIE for U.S. federal income tax purposes, our risk of being a PFIC may substantially increase. Because PFIC status is a factual determination made annually after the close of each taxable year, there can be no assurance that we will not be a PFIC for the current taxable year or any future taxable year.
If we are a PFIC for any taxable year during which a U.S. Holder (as defined in “Item 10. Additional Information—E. Taxation—United States Federal Income Tax Considerations”) holds our ordinary shares, certain adverse U.S. federal income tax consequences could apply to such U.S. Holder. See “Item 10. Additional Information—E. Taxation— United States Federal Income Tax Considerations—Passive Foreign Investment Company Considerations.”
Since shareholder rights under Cayman Islands law differ from those under U.S. law, you may have difficulty protecting your shareholder rights.
We are an exempted company limited by shares incorporated under the laws of the Cayman Islands. Our corporate affairs are governed by our memorandum and Articles of Association, the Companies Law (2020 Revision) of the Cayman Islands and the common law of the Cayman Islands. The rights of shareholders to take action against our directors, actions by our minority shareholders and the fiduciary responsibilities of our directors to us under Cayman Islands law are to a large extent governed by the common law of the Cayman Islands. The common law of the Cayman Islands is derived in part from comparatively limited judicial precedents in the Cayman Islands as well as from the common law of England, the decisions of whose courts are of persuasive authority, but are not binding, on a court in the Cayman Islands. The rights of our shareholders and the fiduciary responsibilities of our directors under Cayman Islands law are not as clearly established as they would be under statutes or judicial precedents in some jurisdictions in the United States. In particular, the Cayman Islands has a less developed body of securities laws than the United States. Some U.S. states, such as Delaware, have more fully developed and judicially interpreted bodies of corporate law than the Cayman Islands. In addition, Cayman Islands companies may not have standing to initiate a shareholder derivative action in a federal court of the United States.
Shareholders of Cayman Islands exempted companies like us have no general rights under Cayman Islands law to inspect corporate records, other than the Memorandum and Articles of Association and any special resolutions passed by such companies, and the registers of mortgages and charges of such companies, or to obtain copies of lists of shareholders of these companies. Our directors have discretion under our current memorandum and Articles of Association to determine whether or not, and under what conditions, our corporate records may be inspected by our shareholders, but are not obliged to make them available to our shareholders. This may make it more difficult for you to obtain the information needed to establish any facts necessary for a shareholder motion or to solicit proxies from other shareholders in connection with a proxy contest.
Certain corporate governance practices in the Cayman Islands, which is our home country, differ significantly from requirements for companies incorporated in other jurisdictions such as the United States. Nasdaq Stock Market rules permit a foreign private issuer like us to follow the corporate governance practices of its home country. We have elected to following our home country practice in lieu of certain corporate government requirements of the Nasdaq Stock Market. See “Item 16G. Corporate Governance.” As a result, our shareholders may be afforded less protection than they otherwise would under rules and regulations applicable to U.S. domestic issuers.
As a result of all of the above, public shareholders may have more difficulties in protecting their interests in the face of actions taken by our management, members of our board of directors or our controlling shareholders than they would as public shareholders of a company incorporated in the United States.
We are an emerging growth company within the meaning of the Securities Act and may take advantage of certain reduced reporting requirements.
We are an “emerging growth company”, as defined in the JOBS Act, and we may take advantage of certain exemptions from requirements applicable to other public companies that are not emerging growth companies which including, most significantly, not being required to comply with the auditor attestation requirements of Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 for so long as we remain an emerging growth company. As a result, if we elect not to comply with such auditor attestation requirements, our investors may not have access to certain information which they may deem important.
The JOBS Act also provides that an emerging growth company does not need to comply with any new or revised financial accounting standards until such date that a private company is otherwise required to comply with such new or revised accounting standards.
We will incur increased costs as a result of being a public company, particularly after we cease to qualify as an “emerging growth company.”
After the completion of the Business Combination, we have been a stand-alone public company and expect to incur significant legal, accounting and other expenses that we did not incur as a subsidiary of another public company, including additional costs associated with our public company reporting obligations. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, as well as rules subsequently implemented by the SEC and the Nasdaq Stock Market, impose various requirements on the corporate governance practices of public companies. As a company with less than US$1.07 billion in revenues for our last fiscal year, we qualify as an “emerging growth company” pursuant to the JOBS Act. An emerging growth company may take advantage of specified reduced reporting and other requirements that are otherwise applicable generally to public companies. These provisions include exemption from the auditor attestation requirement under Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 in the assessment of the emerging growth company’s internal control over financial reporting. The JOBS Act also permits an emerging growth company to delay adopting new or revised accounting standards until such time as those standards apply to private companies. We rely on such exemption provided by the JOBS Act. As a result, our financial statements may not be comparable to companies that comply with public company effective dates.
We expect these rules and regulations to increase our legal and financial compliance costs and to make some corporate activities more time-consuming and costly. After we are no longer an “emerging growth company”, we expect to incur significant expenses and devote substantial management efforts towards ensuring the compliance with the requirements of Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 and the other rules and regulations of the SEC. For example, operating as a public company makes it more difficult and more expensive for us to obtain director and officer liability insurance, and we may be required to accept reduced policy limits and coverage or incur substantially higher costs to obtain the same or similar coverage. In addition, we will incur additional costs associated with our public company reporting requirements. We are currently evaluating and monitoring developments with respect to these rules and regulations, and we cannot predict or estimate with any degree of certainty the amount of additional costs we may incur or the timing of such costs.
The Controling Shareholder will control the outcome of shareholder actions in our company.
As of April 30, 2021, Renren held approximately 71% of our ordinary shares, including shares held in escrow that are with voting rights. Renren would hold approximately 33.8% of our ordinary shares and no longer have the voting control in us after the consummation of the Haitaoche Acquisition. The former shareholders of Haitaoche would hold a controlling interest over the Company after the completion of the Haitoache Acquisition.
Renren’s current voting power gives it the power to control actions that require shareholders’ approval under Cayman Islands law, our memorandum and Articles of Association and Nasdaq requirements, including the election and removal of a majority of our board of directors, approval of significant mergers and acquisitions and other business combinations, as well as changes to our memorandum and articles of association. Further, our memorandum and articles of association contains an extensive list of reserved matters which cannot be enacted without the consent of Renren.
The controlling shareholders may cause transactions to occur that might not be beneficial to direct or indirect holders of our ordinary shares and may prevent transactions that would be beneficial to you. For example, The controlling shareholder’s voting control may prevent a transaction involving a change of control of us, including transactions in which you as a holder of our ordinary shares might otherwise receive a premium for your securities over the then-current market price.
We may have conflicts of interest with Renren and, because of Renren’s controlling interest in our company, we may not be able to resolve such conflicts on favorable terms for us.
Conflicts of interest may arise between Renren and us in a number of areas relating to past and ongoing relationships. Potential conflicts of interest that we have identified include the following:
Indemnification arrangements with Renren. In connection with the Business Combination, we have agreed to indemnify Renren with respect to lawsuits and other matters relating to our consumer auto business, including operations of that business when we were a private company and a subsidiary of Renren. These indemnification arrangements could result in our or our having interests that are adverse to those of Renren, for example, with respect to the settlement arrangements in litigations. In addition, under these arrangements, we have agreed to reimburse Renren for liabilities incurred (including legal defense costs) in connection with any litigations, while Renren will be the party prosecuting or defending the litigations.
Non-competition arrangements with Renren. In connection with the Business Combination, we have entered into a non-competition agreement with Renren under which we agree not to compete with each other’s core business.
Employee recruiting and retention. Because both Renren and we are engaged in the internet-related businesses in China, we may compete with Renren in the hiring of new employees, particularly with respect to media and advertising-related matters. In connection with the Business Combination, we have entered into a non-solicitation arrangement with Renren that restricts us from hiring any of each other’s employees.
Board members or executive officers. The chairman of our board of directors, Mr. Joseph Chen, is also the chairman of Renren’s board of directors and Renren’s chief executive officer. Another member of our board of directors, Mr. James Jian Liu, is also Renren’s chief operating officer. In addition, we may grant incentive share compensation to Renren’s employees and consultants, and Renren may grant incentive share compensation to our employees and consultants, from time to time. These relationships could create, or appear to create, conflicts of interest when these persons are faced with decisions that may have potentially different implications on Renren and us.
Sale of shares in our company. Renren may decide to sell all or a portion of our shares that it holds to a third party, including to one of our competitors, thereby giving that third party substantial influences over our business or affairs. Such a sale could be contrary to the interests of our company or our other shareholders.
Allocation of business opportunities. Business opportunities may arise that both we and Renren find attractive or that would complement our respective businesses. Renren may decide to take the opportunities itself, which would prevent us from taking advantage of those opportunities.
Developing business relationships with Renren’s competitors. So long as Renren remains as our controlling shareholder, we may be limited in our ability to conduct business with its competitors, such as other online media companies in China. This may limit our ability to market our services or otherwise act in the best interests of our company or our other shareholders.
Although our company is a stand-alone public company, we expect to operate, for as long as Renren is our controlling shareholder, as an affiliate of Renren. Renren may from time to time make strategic decisions that it believes are in the best interests of its business as a whole, including our company. These decisions may be different from the decisions that we would have made on our own. Renren’s decisions with respect to us and our businesses may be resolved in ways that favor Renren and therefore Renren’s own shareholders, which may not coincide with the interests of our other shareholders. We may not be able to resolve any potential conflicts, and even if we do so, the resolution may be less favorable to us than if we were dealing with a non-controlling shareholder. Even if all parties seek to transact business on terms intended to approximate those that could have been achieved among unaffiliated parties, this may not succeed in practice.
We are a “controlled company” within the meaning of the Nasdaq Stock Market Rules and, as a result, can rely on exemptions from certain corporate governance requirements that provide protections to shareholders of other companies.
We are a “controlled company” as defined under the Nasdaq Stock Market Rules because Renren controls more than 50% of our voting rights. For so long as we remain a controlled company under such definition, we are permitted to elect, to rely, and will rely, on certain exemptions from corporate governance rules, including:
an exemption from the rule that a majority of our board of directors must be independent directors;
an exemption from the rule that the compensation of our chief executive officer must be determined or recommended solely by independent directors; and
an exemption from the rule that our director nominees must be selected or recommended solely by independent directors.
As a result, you will not be offered the same protections as the shareholders of companies that are subject to these corporate governance requirements.
ITEM 4. INFORMATION ON THE COMPANY
|A.||History and Development of the Company|
History of CM Seven Star
Our company, formerly known as CM Seven Star Acquisition Corporation, or CM Seven Star, was incorporated in the Cayman Islands as an exempted company on November 28, 2016. We were originally a blank check company formed for the purpose of entering into merger, share exchange, asset acquisition, stock purchase, recapitalization, reorganization or other similar business combination, with one or more target businesses.
On October 30, 2017, we consummated an initial public offering of 18,000,000 units at a price of $10.00 per unit, generating gross proceeds of $180,000,000. On the same date, we consummated a private placement with our initial public offering sponsor of 475,000 units at a price of $10.00 per unit, generating total proceeds of $4,750,000. On November 3, 2017, we consummated the sale of an additional 2,636,293 units at a price of $10.00 per unit pursuant to an over-allotment option granted to the underwriters of the initial public offering, generating gross proceeds of $26,362,930. On the same date, we consummated a private placement with our sponsor of an additional 52,726 units at a price of $10.00 per unit, generating total proceeds of $527,260. A total of $206,362,930 of the net proceeds from the sales described above were placed in a trust account established for the benefit of our public shareholders.
On April 30, 2019, we consummated the Business Combination as contemplated by the share exchange agreement (the “Share Exchange Agreement”) dated as of November 2, 2018 by and among CM Seven Star, KAG and Renren, pursuant to which we acquired 100% of the equity interests of KAG from Renren. In connection with the Business Combination, KAG had transferred the equity interest and assets of its Ji’nan Dealership to Renren in December 2018.
Upon the closing of the Business Combination, we acquired 100% of the issued and outstanding securities of KAG, in exchange for approximately 28.3 million ordinary shares of our company. Out of the 28.3 million shares, there were 3.3 million ordinary shares (“indemnity shares”) held in escrow as potential indemnity for claims that may be asserted under the Share Exchange Agreement. An additional 4.7 million ordinary shares of our company were reserved for issuance under an equity incentive plan in exchange for outstanding options in KAG, which were cancelled at the closing of the Business Combination. Additionally, 19.5 million earnout shares were to be issued and held in escrow. Renren may be entitled to receive earnout shares as follows: (1) if our gross revenue for the year ended December 31, 2019 is greater than or equal to RMB5,000,000,000, Renren is entitled to receive 1,950,000 ordinary shares of our company; (2) if our adjusted EBITDA for the year ended December 31, 2019 is greater than or equal to RMB150,000,000, then Renren is entitled to receive 3,900,000 ordinary shares of our company, increasing proportionally to 7,800,000 ordinary shares if our adjusted EBITDA is greater than or equal to RMB200,000,000; and (3) if our adjusted EBITDA for the year ended December 31, 2020 is greater than or equal to RMB340,000,000, Renren is entitled to receive 4,875,000 ordinary shares of our company, increasing proportionally to 9,750,000 ordinary shares if our adjusted EBITDA is greater than or equal to RMB480,000,000. Adjusted EBITDA represents net loss plus contingent consideration fair value change, share-based compensation expense, interest (income) expenses, income tax expenses, and depreciation. Notwithstanding the revenue and adjusted EBITDA achieved by the post-transaction company for any period, Renren will receive the 2019 earnout shares if our stock price is higher than $13.00 for any sixty days in any period of ninety consecutive trading days during a 15-month period following the closing, and will receive all 19.5 million earnout shares if our stock price is higher than $13.50 for any sixty days in any period of ninety consecutive trading days during a 30-month period following the closing. Immediately after the Business Combination, Renren owned approximately 56% of our issued and outstanding ordinary shares without taking into account the indemnity shares and the earnout shares in escrow account as discussed above. In November 2020, the board of directors of the Company resolved to waive the satisfaction of prequalification conditions for the earnout shares discussed above and release and transfer the 19.5 million earnout shares to Renren Inc. Counting in the earnout shares and the 3.3 million shares held in escrow for potential indemnity, Renren’s sharholding in the Company is 71%. The share transfer procedures were still in process at the date of this annual report.
History of KAG Before the Business Combination
Before the completion of Business Combination, KAG had been a wholly-owned subsidiary of Renren. KAG’s business was historically operated by Renren through certain subsidiaries and variable interest entities, including KAG itself.
KAG was formed in March 2011 as Renren-Jingwei Inc., an exempted company under the laws of the Cayman Islands. KAG initially focused on providing consumer financing solutions through Renren Fenqi, an installment payment business. In 2015, KAG underwent a strategic realignment and launched Renren Licai, a peer-to-peer financing platform. Following the acquisition of a government license for leasing and factoring, KAG began to offer floor financing to auto dealerships. In connection with the growth of this business, KAG was rebranded in the first quarter of 2016 as Renren Financial Holdings.
In 2017, Renren’s finance business, as well as certain shell companies were transferred to KAG, and certain reorganization steps were undertaken. The main components of the reorganization include:
Establishment of Shanghai Jieying. In February 2017, Shanghai Jieying was established in the PRC by Mr. Thomas Jintao Ren. In April 2017, Mr. Ren transferred 1% of the equity interests he held in Shanghai Jieying to Ms. Rui Yi. Both Mr. Ren and Ms. Yi were nominee shareholders designated by Renren. Shortly after that, Shanghai Jieying and its nominee shareholders entered into a series of contractual arrangements with a subsidiary of KAG, Beijing Jiexun Shiji Technology Development Co., Ltd., or Beijing Jiexun, which enabled Beijing Jiexun to be the primary beneficiary of Shanghai Jieying.
Transfer of Equity Interests of Renren Finance and its subsidiary. In April 2017, the equity interests of Renren Finance, Inc., a subsidiary of Renren, were transferred to KAG for nil consideration. Renren Finance Inc. and its subsidiary were mainly engaged in the provision of internet-based financing to used car dealerships.
Transfer of Equity Interests and Reorganization of Qianxiang Changda. In May 2017, Qianxiang Changda, which was formerly a subsidiary of a consolidated variable interest entity of Renren, was transferred to Mr. James Jian Liu and Ms. Jing Yang for a consideration of RMB50 million, which was equal to the paid-in-capital of Qianxiang Changda. Mr. Liu and Ms. Yang were nominee shareholders designated by KAG. In June 2017, Qianxiang Changda and its nominee shareholders entered into a series of contractual arrangements with Beijing Jiexun, which enabled Beijing Jiexun to be primary beneficiary of Qianxiang Changda. In 2016 and 2017, Qianxiang Changda terminated and/or transferred to Renren certain parts of its financing services business, including wealth management services, credit financing to college students and apartment rental financing. After the reorganization of KAG in 2017, Qianxiang Changda was only engaged in the provision of financing to used car dealerships.
Establishment of Shanghai Auto and Amendments to the Contractual Arrangements with Qianxiang Changda and Shanghai Jieying. In August 2017, Shanghai Auto was established in the PRC by KAG. At the same time, Shanghai Jieying and Qianxiang Changda terminated their contractual agreements with Beijing Jiexun and entered into the similar contractual agreements with Shanghai Auto. See “Item 4. Information on the Company—C. Organizational Structure—Contractual Agreements with Our VIEs and Their Shareholders” for additional details on the current contractual arrangements that we have with our VIEs.
In the first quarter of 2017, KAG was renamed as Renren Auto Group, and launched its first Dealership later that year. In the first quarter of 2018, KAG was further renamed as Kaixin Auto Group.
History and Development after the Business Combination
Immediately prior to the completion of the Business Combination, our company was renamed as Kaixin Auto Holdings.
On June 28, 2019, we determined that we qualify as a “foreign private issuer” as defined under Rule 3b-4 of the Exchange Act, and started reporting under the Exchange Act as a foreign private issuer.
On November 3, 2020, we entered into a binding term sheet with Haitaoche pursuant to which Haitaoche will merge with a newly formed wholly-owned subsidiary of ours, with Haitaoche continuing as the surviving entity and a wholly-owned subsidiary of ours. On December 31, 2020, a definitive share purchase agreement was entered into between Kaixin and Haitaoche in connection with the Haitaoche Acquisition pursuant to which Kaixin agrees to issue to shareholders of Haitaoche an aggregate of 74,035,502 ordinary shares of Kaixin in exchange of 100% share capital of Haitaoche. The closing of the Haitaoche Acquisition is subject to a number of closing conditions, including the relevant approval by NSDAQ Stock Market pursuant to Rule 5110(a) of the Nasdaq Stock Market. We received such approval on April 15, 2021. As of the date of this annual report, the Haitaoche Acquisition had not been consummated. We expect the Haitaoche Acquisition to be consummated in the first half of 2021.
Haitaoche is a holding company incorporated under the laws of the Cayman Islands on January 13, 2015. Haitaoche conducts operations through its variable interest entities in the People’s Republic of China. The Company is mainly engaged in sales of imported automobiles in PRC. As of December 31, 2020, the total assets and total shareholders’ equity of Haitaoche were USD$6.6 million and USD$6.2 million, respectively. Haitaoche made total sales revenue of USD$1.2 million and net loss of USD$0.2 million in 2020.
Our principal executive offices are located at 4/F, Tower D, Building 15, No.5 Jiangtai Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing 100015, People’s Republic of China. Our telephone number at this address is +86 10 84481818. Our registered office is situated at the office of Harneys Fiduciary (Cayman) Limited, 4th Floor,Harbour Place, 103 South Church Street, P.O. Box 10240, Grand Cayman KY1-1002, Cayman Islands. Our agent for service of process in the United States is Cogency Global Inc., located at 122 East 42nd Street, 18th Floor, New York, NY 10168.
We are committed to providing a superior used car purchase and ownership experiences to our customers. Our passion and professionalism build trust and long-term customer loyalty.
We are a leading premium used auto dealership group in China. As of December 31, 2020, we had 14 Dealerships covering 14 cities in 12 provinces in China. On average, our Dealership operators have over ten years of experiences in the used car industry. We provide used car buyers in China with access to a wide selection of used vehicles across our network of Dealerships, with a focus on premium brands, such as Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Land Rover and Porsche. In addition to auto sales, for the convenience of our customers, we also provide financing channels to customers and other in-network dealers through our partnerships with financial institutions.
Our strong market position is enabled in part by our technological strength. Our controlling shareholder, Renren, is a pioneer in China’s internet industry. We have leveraged Renren’s expertise and experiences to integrate technology in support of our operating platforms, including a mobile app for consumers to browse for cars and purchase related value-added services, big data analytics used to optimize procurement and operational management, and an auto dealership SaaS platform used to empower our Dealerships’ operations and management capabilities.
China is the world’s largest automotive market both in demand and supply in 2020, according to Reuters. While the growth of China’s new car sales is expected to slow down, its used car market is expected to continue to grow rapidly. We believe that this presents an opportunity for the disruption of the traditional auto sales business through our business model, which seamlessly combines online and offline operations. China’s used car market is characterized by the lack of brand differentiation and limited industry consolidation. Among more than 100,000 used car dealerships in China, the largest dealer brand commands only approximately 2% of the market, according to iResearch.
We launched our first Dealership market in mid-2017, and from December 31, 2018 to December 31, 2020, we sourced, marketed and sold approximately 14,116 used vehicles to customers across China. We sold approximately 7,438, 6,005 and 664 vehicles in 2018, 2019 and 2020, respectively.
In December 2020, we entered into definitive agreement in connection with the Haitaoche Acquisition. Haitaoche is a China-based e-commerce platform for imported automobiles. The manufacture and distribution of automobiles are undergoing significant changes in China, which are expected to create new opportunities and business models. Haitaoche strives to become a leading automobile retail platform in China. In addition to strengthening its imported automobile sales business, it plans to expand into electronic vehicles and other business areas. Haitaoche aims to enter into strategic cooperation agreements with multiple electronic vehicle manufacturers in China and serve a wider group of distributors and consumers.
Our Operational Model
With an innovative business model, we serve customers by providing our Dealerships with an integrated technology system, centralized operational control and management, a unified brand and capital support. We believe that our proprietary technology and vertically integrated business model allow us to manage our variable cost structure and provide substantial value to our customers. Our relationships with our Dealerships combine the advantages of brick-and-mortar facilities, which allow the customers to browse and physically experience automobiles prior to purchase, and our internet technology, which engages customers and allows them to easily evaluate our product offerings online. Furthermore, through our financing partners, we provide highly transparent and personalized financing solutions that facilitate speedy transactions with competitive lending terms.
Our network empowers the operations of our Dealerships while maximizing their local expertise. Dealerships can facilitate customer referrals and coordinate on the acquisition of inventory. Our brand awareness also enables Dealerships to achieve cross-region vehicle sales. Additionally, Dealerships also benefit from our highly integrated operating platform and data analytic functions, which are all part of our Dealer SaaS system.
Value Propositions to Car Buyers
We provide integrated online and offline sales channels to car buyers, aiming to create a superior and convenient vehicle purchase experience. Online channels are important to engage customers and provide information about the used cars that we offer for sale. We provide high-quality photos of the vehicles we sell from multiple angles, allowing consumers to browse our inventory online and attract them to physically visit our Dealership Outlets. Our offline presence with professional sales staff and a comprehensive showroom experience provides convenience to the buyers, who typically want to view the car in person, understand its history, take it for a test drive and establish trust before making a purchase.
Our nationwide inventory, which undergoes our inspection process and reconditioning process for quality assurance, is optimized based on market insights into popular models and pricing trends through our technology systems. We offer third-party financing, value-added services including extended warranties and insurance. Our customer support specialists are available to answer customers’ questions that arise throughout the process. At every transaction milestone, we strive to provide the level of customer service that makes purchasing a car an enjoyable and memorable experience.
Value Propositions to Other In-Network Dealers
We are a reliable and trustworthy partner for car dealers outside of our Dealership network. We offer a particularly attractive value proposition to small and medium-sized dealers, who may not have a nationwide platform of customers, financial resources, dealership infrastructure, marketing channels and ancillary service capabilities, such as consumer financing, extended warranties and insurance. We are an important partner of many such dealers through the Kaixin Affiliated Network Dealer model pursuant to which we acquire and market their inventory and share a percentage of the profit with them. We intend to allow Kaixin Affiliated Network Dealers to also take advantage of our Dealer SaaS technology platform, which provides market insights on pricing trends and related dynamics, popular models and other dealer management functions.
Value Propositions to Financing and Value-Added Service Partners
We are a key channel partner for financing and value-added service providers, such as providers of insurance and extended warranties. We make referrals to both customers of our Dealerships and customers of other dealers on our platform. Many of these partners may not have direct marketing channels in the used car industry, and we provide this critical link to their business. In addition, we are able to help these partners to more effectively market their products due to our close connections to auto customers through our Dealerships and other dealers in our network. We believe that, by leveraging our customer relationships in lieu of expanding their in-house marketing department, our service partners can conserve capital and resources.
We have pioneered an innovative business model, under which we have obtained control of Dealerships across China, providing them with an integrated technology system, centralized operational control and management, a unified brand and capital support. We primarily generate revenues from sales of used cars, as well as fees obtained from our role as a channel partner for third-party auto financing and other value-added service providers. We also generate revenues in connection with consignment arrangements with third-party dealers whereby we facilitate sales of their cars. Of our total revenues in 2018, 2019 and 2020, revenues from auto sales accounted for 97.4%, 99.4% and 99.5%, respectively. In 2018, we derived 0.5% of our total revenues from floor financing. We ceased granting new loans for our floor financing business in the first quarter of 2018.
In 2019, due to disagreements with certain non-controlling shareholders on operational matters, some non-controlling shareholders detained our inventories in our Dealerships and significant uncertainty arose on the realizability and collectability of the prepayments to purchase used cars for these Dealerships and amounts due from these non-controlling shareholders. Therefore, we wrote down $17.8 million of inventory, and wrote off US$22.3 million of prepayments for the year ended December 31, 2019. By early 2021, we reached agreement with a majority of the non-controlling shareholders to settle the disputes over the allocaton of assets and confirm our mutual commitment to the growth and revamp of our car sale business. The net impact on the recoverable amounts of the previously detained and impaired assets was $2,921, which have been recorded as a reduction of general and administrative expense for the year ended December 31, 2020.
Automobile Sales Business
In our automobile sales business, we primarily sell used vehicles and related products and services. Our inventory is comprised of used vehicles that we purchase from car owners and other sources for resale across our network. As of December 31, 2020, we had 14 Dealerships in China, including the ones that have not reached settlement agreement. We have leveraged our deep technology expertise in generating traffic of potential buyers, providing targeted marketing, and optimizing our operational model.
We launched our used car sales business in the second half of 2017. We sell premium used cars, which include brands such as Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Land Rover and Porsche. Used car sales accounted for 93%, 94% and 98% of all of the vehicles which we sold in 2018, 2019 and 2020, respectively. We display vehicles at our brick-and-mortar showrooms as well as on our Kaixin Auto mobile apps and website. We also utilize other online vertical channels, such as Autohome and 58.com. We have found that while our mobile apps and website serve as a key tool for reaching and engaging potential customers, sales generally occur at physical Dealership Outlets given the importance of the showroom and test drive experience in the premium used car segment.
We obtain used vehicle inventory through the large and liquid national used-car market. We acquire vehicle inventory from a variety of sources, including auto finance and leasing companies, internet-only sales platforms, new car dealers who obtain used cars as trade-ins for their sales, and our customers. We have separated the practice of trading in a used vehicle in conjunction with the purchase of another vehicle into two distinct and independent transactions. Our sourcing operations are generally conducted by our Dealerships, supported by our Dealer SaaS system, which provides market insights on pricing trends and related market dynamics, popular models and other dealer management functions. In 2018, we developed a supplemental Kaixin Affiliated Network Dealer model for used vehicles whereby we, through our Dealerships, work with local, small-scale auto dealers to obtain used vehicles. Under the Kaixin Affiliated Network Dealer program, we may advance funds for the purchase of used car inventory, which distinguishes the program from ordinary consignment sales arrangements.
Inspection and Reconditioning
Before we acquire a vehicle, it undergoes a thorough inspection process, covering all major systems, controls, features, brakes, tires and cosmetics. This process was developed by a team which had previously worked at the German Auto Quality Standards Organization. We do not acquire vehicles in poor condition or vehicles with a history of accidents, water or fire damage, extensive mileage, or other unacceptable attributes. When an inspection is completed, we estimate the necessary reconditioning cost and expected timing for the vehicle to be made available for sale. We also determine the reconditioning scope to bring the vehicle up to our internal quality standards. Each reconditioning location is staffed with trained technicians and equipped with vehicle lifts, dent repair and paint capabilities. We also receive on-site support from third-party vendors with whom we have integrated systems to ensure readily access to parts and materials. Our centrally trained repair teams perform routine mechanical and minor body repairs in-house at our Dealerships.
Our Dealership Network
As of December 31, 2020, we had 14 Dealerships. Our network of Dealerships is focused primarily on tier 2 and below cities, where we believe the mix of cost structure, consumers’ demand and opportunity for growth is most favorable. The below graphic illustrates the scale of our network as of December 31, 2020:
Dealership Evaluation and Selection Process
In expanding our network of Dealerships, we carefully consider potential markets and conduct a systematic evaluation of each potential new site, using a scoring system that we have developed internally. In our scoring system, we consider a number of factors in the area served, including:
location, nature and quality;
age distribution and average disposable income of consumers;
spending patterns, dining habits and frequency of consumers;
locations of other car dealerships;
estimated customer traffic;
structure of the dealership, including availability of showroom and parking space; and
rental costs, lease economics and estimated return on investments.
Management of Dealerships
We have adopted an operating model for our auto sales business, which we believe it aligns the economic interests of our Dealerships with our overall business. We provide capital, a unified brand, technology system and operational coordination to our Dealerships, in which we retain majority control. Under this model, all of the cash flows, operational activities and financial and accounting recordkeeping across our Dealerships are centrally managed. Marketing and promotional activities are also centrally managed, although certain aspects may be executed at the Dealership level. We also support Dealerships with our Dealer SaaS Platform. Powered by big data and AI, the platform provides our Dealerships with market insights and dealer management functionality, including inventory management, used car assessment, customer management, order management, financing management and reporting, and assists them in making day-to-day operational decisions. It also empowers our Dealerships’ sales via data mining, analysis of existing customer data and online lead generation. We believe that our dealership model promotes customer loyalty and provides significant operational advantages, by introducing standard practices, such as operational rules, legal documentation and processes. It also creates a common culture to promote bonding and buy-in among our direct employees, dealers and other workers across our platform.
Our internal team for Dealership management is responsible for day-to-day operational matters as well as development and expansion of our Dealership network. One of their responsibilities is to monitor the compliance with the operational obligations for the management of our Dealerships. We refer to these obligations as the “constitution” which governing the management of Dealerships. They include:
synchronize of the financial system, business processes and rules and regulations with our platform, such as:
financial regulations, which cover use of funds, revenue recognition and other accounting regulations;
vehicle procurement standards;
vehicle evaluation and quality control, relating to used car evaluation, certification and pricing;
inventory management, which covers warehousing and outbound regulations;
vehicle sales regulations, which cover display and marketing;
personnel and organization structure regulations; and
management regulations, which relate to facility development and management;
adoption of our Dealer SaaS Platform, which is the primary tool for monitoring compliance; and
establishment of our governance structure, which requires that each special purpose vehicle’s board consists of three directors, two of whom are appointed by us.
In the event that these conditions are not fulfilled, we are entitled to recourse against the seller of the Dealership or terminate the equity purchase agreement. We also have the option to terminate the equity purchase agreement in certain circumstances, including but not limited to, the death or incapacity of the seller, issues of integrity or criminal conviction of the seller, material default by the seller, or our failure to complete an initial public offering within three years following signing of the relevant equity purchase agreement due to third-party reasons or force majeure. A seller may suspend or terminate Dealership services voluntarily or involuntarily due to various reasons, including our failure to complete an initial public offering within three years following entry into the relevant equity purchase agreement for reasons other than third-party reasons or force majeure. In connection with the Business Combination, we entered into amendment agreements with Dealership operators in January 2019 pursuant to which it was confirmed that the Business Combination qualifies as an initial public offering, that shares payable to the Dealership operators as consideration shall be adjusted to reflect the earnout and indemnification arrangements in the Business Combination, and that Renren will be responsible for settling contingent obligations to Dealership operators.
Our relationships with our Dealerships are described in further details below under “—Certain Legal Arrangements—Legal Arrangements with Dealerships.”
Certain Legal Arrangements
We have entered into a series of legal arrangements with our Dealerships, platform participants and other related parties, which are described in further details below.
Legal Arrangements with Dealerships
Equity Purchase Agreement
One of our variable interest entities, Shanghai Jieying, is the contracting party under the equity purchase arrangements relating to our Dealerships, as supplemented from time to time. In addition to the equity purchase agreements, we also purchased all car inventories from each dealership for cash at fair value. Pursuant to the relevant equity purchase agreement, Shanghai Jieying, as purchaser, agrees with the shareholder(s) of an existing car dealership, as seller(s), to purchase a majority interest in the business according to the terms summarized below:
The shareholder(s) of the dealership agree to set up a new special purpose holding entity to which the shareholder(s) transfer the eligible assets, employees and business contracts owned and leased by the existing dealership to Shanghai Jieying. In turn, Shanghai Jieying agrees to subscribe for a portion of the equity from the seller(s) and contributes cash to the new entity to ultimately hold 70% of the equity interests in the new entity, consisting of 40% of the equity interests in the new entity transferred from the seller(s), or the Transferred Equity, and 30% of the equity interests in the new entity as a capital increase of the new entity, or New Equity.
As consideration for the Transferred Equity, Shanghai Jieying agrees to pay to the shareholder(s) shares issued by KAG or other future overseas holding entity of Shanghai Jieying, or the Listing Entity, to the seller(s) or seller’s overseas holding entity, at the per share valuation in the listing of the Listing Entity, or the Listing, calculated as follows:
First Payment: The amount of the first payment is calculated as all pre-tax operational profit generated by the special purpose holding company prior to the Listing multiplied by Shanghai Jieying’s ownership percentage in the special purpose holding entity.
Subsequent Payments: The total amount of the subsequent payments is calculated as all pre-tax operational profit generated by the special purpose holding company during the relevant performance benchmark period, multiplied by Shanghai Jieying’s ownership percentage in the special purpose holding company, multiplied further by a factor of 12, payable in five equal installments.
The calculation method of the acquisition price involved in the special purpose holding company’s acquisition and opening of a new Dealership Outlet is the same as the above provisions, but the date of calculation of the specific performance benchmark period shall be determined by the board of directors of the special purpose holding company.
Each subsequent payment is subject to adjustment based on a performance target of a compound growth rate of the special purpose holding company’s profit of 110%, using the initial performance benchmark period as the baseline. In the event that the special purpose holding company’s performance exceeds the target for the year, the share consideration payable to it shall be increased proportionally, up to an amount equal to 250% of the number of shares nominally payable for such performance benchmark period. In the event that the special purpose holding company’s performance is lower than the target for the relevant year, the value of the share consideration payable to it shall be proportionally reduced, subject to a bottom limit of 50% of the value of shares nominally payable for the relevant period.
The initial performance benchmark period is defined as the twelve-month period immediately prior to the completion of the Listing, if the holding company’s performance inclusion date, which is the date of the first month following inclusion of the relevant holding company’s results in KAG’s financial reporting, is at least 12 months prior to the date of the Listing. In the event that the special purpose holding company’s performance inclusion date is less than 12 months prior to the completion of the Listing, then each performance benchmark period is calculated as the twelve-month period following its performance inclusion date.
The agreement further provides that on the date when the special purpose holding company opens a new Dealership Outlet or acquires other car dealership business, a separate performance metric may be agreed upon by the parties starting from such date, with the specific performance evaluation method for the new or acquired business is agreed upon by both parties.
In the case of our Dealerships, each city is covered by a single, separate special purpose holding company, which operates one or more Dealership Outlets in the relevant city.
In connection with the Business Combination, KAG entered into amendment agreements with Dealership operators in January 2019 pursuant to which it was confirmed that the Business Combination qualifies as a Listing, that shares payable to the Dealership operators as consideration shall be adjusted to reflect earn-out and indemnification arrangements in the Business Combination, and that Renren will be responsible for settling contingent obligations to Dealership operators.
Ancillary Agreements with Dealerships
In addition to the equity purchase agreements governing the major aspects of the legal and financial relationships between us and the partners with whom we work to operate our Dealerships starting in 2018, we have also entered into a series of ancillary agreements, which are generally designed for the compliance with PRC laws and regulations and for value-added tax optimization purposes. Revenue for 2018, 2019 and 2020 was primarily generated from transactions under these ancillary agreements and we expect future revenue from automobile sales to be primarily generated from transactions under these ancillary agreements. Prior to 2018, our used car purchase and sale agreements generally resulted in Shanghai Jieying being considered as the legal owner of such vehicles, including while they were held in inventory.
The following is a summary of the typical key terms of the ancillary agreements which we entered into in connection with our auto sales operations since 2018. We may depart from these terms from time to time based on local conditions, counterparty’s demands, tax or regulatory considerations or other reasons.
Used Vehicle Purchase Agreement. Pursuant to the agreement among the owner of a used car as seller, a senior member of management of Shanghai Jieying, or a Jieying Executive, as purchaser, and a Dealership employee, as registered owner:
A Jieying Executive is to purchase the used car and register it in the name of a designated employee of the relevant Dealership.
Shanghai Jieying provides technology consulting services and operational management system services to the Jieying Executive, who in turn pays service fees to Shanghai Jieying.
Used Car Agency Services Agreement. Pursuant to the agreement among Shanghai Jieying, a Jieying Executive, the relevant Dealership and the shareholders of such Dealership:
The Jieying Executive entrusts the Dealership to purchase, sell, manage, repair and show used cars on his or her behalf.
Shanghai Jieying pays a monthly fee to the Dealership based on the business performance of the Dealership.
The Jieying Executive is to complete the transfer procedures for the purchase and sale of automobiles.
Vehicle Consignment Agreement. Pursuant to the agreement between a Jieying Executive, as principal, and a Dealership employee, as agent:
The Jieying Executive authorizes the Dealership employee to purchase a vehicle on his or her behalf.
The Jieying Executive authorizes the Dealership employee to register such Dealership employee as the named transferee of the vehicle and the owner of the vehicle, while the Jieyang Executive retains legal ownership of the vehicle.
When the vehicle is sold by the Jieying Executive, the Dealership employee is responsible to handle third-party transfer procedures in a timely manner.
Loan and Service Agreement. Pursuant to the agreement between a Jieying Executive, as borrower, and Shanghai Jieying, as lender:
Shanghai Jieying provides loans to the Jieying Executive for purchasing used cars.
Proceeds from the used cars sold by the Jieying Executive on behalf of Shanghai Jieying are used in their entirety to repay the loan. Proceeds in excess of the principal are designated as a service fee paid to Shanghai Jieying from the Jieying Executive.
Used Vehicle Sales Agreement. Pursuant to the agreement among a Jieying Executive, as seller, a customer, as purchaser, a designated Dealership employee, as the registration transferor, and Shanghai Jieying, as service provider:
When the Jieying Executive sells a used car to the customer, the automobile registration is transferred from the Dealership employee to the customer. The sale proceeds are transferred to the account designated by the management of Shanghai Jieying.
Shanghai Jieying provides technology consulting services and operational management system services to the Jieying Executive, who in turn pays service fees to Shanghai Jieying, which are deducted from the proceeds of the car sales.
To illustrate, when we source an automobile pursuant to a Used Vehicle Purchase Agreement, the seller is entitled to payment for the car, and the legal title is transferred to a Jieying Executive, with the registration in the name of a Dealership employee. The Jieying Executive is authorized to enter into this purchase agreement pursuant to the Used Car Agency Services Agreement, and the Dealership employee similarly is authorized to enter into the agreement pursuant to the Vehicle Consignment Agreement. Funds are paid by Shanghai Jieying through the Dealership to the seller of the car.
When a used car is sold, the Jieying Executive transfers the legal ownership to the purchaser, while the Dealership employee completes the registration transfer from his or her name to the name of the purchaser. The proceeds are remitted to Shanghai Jieying.
Based on the agreements, neither the Jieying Executive nor the Dealership employee bears any risk of loss or has any future economic benefits. Neither party ever places their own funds at risk and any potential losses resulting from the purchase and sale of the car are borne by Shanghai Jieying. Similarly, neither of these individuals is able to benefit from the expected increase in the price of the car resulting from completion of sale to a third-party customer; all of the future economic benefit is remitted directly to Shanghai Jieying. Additionally, Shanghai Jieying effectively controls the entire process starting from the purchase of the car, including from whom to purchase a car, the purchase price, and ultimately the sale of the car to a third party. In addition, Shanghai Jieying has the sole discretion as to which Jieying Executive will enter into the Loan and Service Agreement with Shanghai Jieying and to which Dealership employee that it will assign to complete the registration of the car. Furthermore, it is within Shanghai Jieying’s sole power to redirect the Loan and Service Agreement, title and registration of the car.
When the special purpose entity holding one of our Dealerships is formed, the prior owner holds 30% of the equity interests in the entity, and Shanghai Jieying holds 70% of the equity interests. We provide inventory financing to these Dealerships using our own funds as well funds from third-party financing partners. We also monitor the financial performance of our Dealerships on a real-time basis through our Dealer SaaS platform.
Settlement arrangement with noncontrolling shareholders of dealerships over disputes
Starting from 2019, due to disagreements with certain noncontrolling shareholders on operational matters, some noncontrolling shareholders detained the Company’s inventories in certain dealerships. Due to the uncertainty in realizing inventory held by these dealerships and prepayments made to these dealerships for future car purchases, we wrote down $17.8 million inventory, and wrote off US$22.3 million prepayments for the year ended December 31, 2019. The Company has had ongoing negotiations with these noncontrolling shareholders in early 2021, and the Company has reached settlement agreements with some of these noncontrolling shareholders.
The following is a summary of the key terms of the settlement agreements which we entered into with certain noncontrolling shareholders. We may depart from these terms from time to time based on local conditions, counterparty’s demands, or other reasons.
Amendments to Used Car Agency Services Agreement. Pursuant to the agreement among Shanghai Jieying, the relevant Dealership and the noncontrolling shareholders of such Dealership:
The noncontrolling shareholders agree to repay a settlement amount in the form of inventory and/or repayment of prepayment to Shanghai Jieying based on a set schedule.
Amendments to Equity Purchase Agreement. Pursuant to the agreement among Shanghai Jieying and the noncontrolling shareholders of relevant Dealership:
Shanghai Jieying commits to furnish the noncontrolling shareholders a certain number of the Company’s ordinary shares following a schedule tied to the noncontrolling shareholders’ performance of settlement payment duties as specified in the Amendments to Used Car Agency Services Agreement.
The number of the Company’s ordinary shares include shares in the First Payment and Subsequent Payments as specified in the Equity Purchase Agreement, plus certain extra bonus shares.
Financial Leasing Settlement Agreement. Pursuant to the agreement among Shanghai Renren Financial Leasing Co, Ltd. and the noncontrolling shareholders of relevant Dealership:
The noncontrolling shareholders agree to repay Shanghai Renren Financial Leasing Co, Ltd. the outstanding balance of financial leasing payables following a schedule tie to the controlling shareholders’ receipts of settlement shares as specified in the Amendments to Equity Purchase Agreement.
Arrangements with Other In-network Dealers
In addition to our Dealerships, we also engage with other in-network dealers through our platform, primarily to meet our inventory needs by collaborating with them and providing them with financing. We work with both large dealers, who may have a broader and more diverse inventory and greater needs for our financing services, and small dealers, who may have better local knowledge or offer their inventory on more attractive terms. In 2018, we initiated the Kaixin Affiliated Network Dealer program. Under this program, dealers may enter into Kaixin Affiliated Network Dealer arrangements pursuant to which they sell to us used car inventory for display in our showrooms, subject to a profit-sharing agreement pursuant to which they are entitled to a portion of the sales profits. Under the Kaixin Affiliated Network Dealer program, we may advance funds for the purchase of used car inventory, which differentiates the program from ordinary consignment sales arrangements, which we utilized prior to 2018.
The inventory of a Kaixin Affiliated Network Dealer is subject to the same quality standards as all of our other used cars on offer, including our inspection process consisting of over 140 steps. We also support dealers with our Dealer SaaS Platform, which provides market insights and dealer management functionality. These services significantly strengthened our relationships with dealers, which in turn enhance the value of our platform to financial institutions, car buyers and other in-network dealers.
We manage our relationships with in-network dealers through a dedicated in-house team. Responsibilities of this team include sourcing, review and approval of dealer financing relationships, monitoring of vehicles sourced from dealers, and management of our dealer database. We monitor performance data on a real-time basis through our Dealer SaaS system.
To ensure the quality of our dealer network as well as to prevent potential fraud risk, we have implemented rigorous procedures to screen dealers based on their licensing status, operational history, scale, location and various other factors. We maintain an internal blacklist of fraudulent dealers, and we also use a third-party database to identify whether a dealer has been involved in significant lawsuits. Our screening procedures include an on-site visit, during which our sales team interviews the dealership manager, examines the dealer’s business licenses and makes inquiries about its business. Our sales team records its findings electronically in our sales management system and submits the findings electronically to supervisors at our headquarters, who make the final decision as to whether the dealer can join the Kaixin network.
Through our sales management system, we constantly monitor and evaluate dealers’ performance, including factors such as the quality of vehicles we source from them, as well as the dealership’s sales performance.
Legal Arrangements with Financial Institutions
Financial institutions are important business partners to our platform. We act as a key channel partner for financial institutions to participate in the rapidly expanding and dynamic automotive finance industry in China. Traditional financial institutions typically lack the necessary technology, human resources, industry specialization and/or geographic reach to provide automotive financing, especially in tier 2 and below cities. Our services enable financial institutions to broaden their reach to car buyers through our apps and network of Dealerships. Our collaboration with financial institutions has enabled us to scale up our business and facilitate a large number of car sales without straining our own capital resources. We receive service fees from financial institutions for facilitating automotive financing transactions to car buyers.
Through our VIE, Shanghai Jieying, we entered into agreements with Ping An Bank, for whom we source customers who take out loans from the bank. Pursuant to these agreements, we direct our Dealerships to offer loans to customers when making a sale. When a loan is made, the financing partner pays service fees to Shanghai Jieying, calculated based on the principal amount of the loan and the interest rate, provided that the term of the loan shall be three years. Our cooperation agreement with Ping An Bank expired on June 30, 2020. There is no current plan to renew the agreement in the near term.
Our agreement with another financing partner similarly provides for service fees to be paid to it in connection with auto loan financing referrals, which is calculated based on the principal amount of the loan, the annual percentage rate, adjusted for market fees, processing fees, appraisal fees and security fees, if applicable. The term of such agreement is through March 2022.
Sales and Marketing
We believe that our customer base is similar to the overall market for premium automobiles. To date, the growth of our automobile sales business has primarily been through customer referrals. We also believe that our strong customer focus ensures customer loyalty which will drive both repeat purchases and referrals. Our sales are primarily made in-store, but we have invested heavily in online sales channels, including through the Kaixin app and web interfaces. We also utilize other online vertical channels such as Autohome and 58.com. We believe that this is a key advantage over our competitors, whether traditional dealers, who do not have a strong online presence, or online-only competitors, who lack the offline infrastructure and in-store experiences that we are able to provide.
Marketing and Brand Promotion
We believe that brand recognition is important to our ability to attract users. We co-brand our Dealerships, many of which have an established local brand, to associate their existing brands with the Kaixin brand. “Kaixin” means “happiness” in Chinese and has had strong impact and positive responses in other applications, including a social gaming platform previously operated by Renren. By empowering our Dealerships with this highly recognizable brand name, we aim to help them gain further credibility and trustworthiness.
To date, user recognition of our Kaixin brand has primarily grown organically and by referrals, and we have built our brand with modest marketing and brand promotion expenditures. To encourage such organic growth, we focus on continuously improving the quality of our services, as we believe that satisfied customers and their friends are more likely to recommend our services to others. In addition, we work with Dealerships on marketing initiatives to further leverage our brand value. Our Dealerships also engage in certain other promotional activities, including placement of local radio ads.
We anticipate that our future sales and marketing expenses will consist primarily of performance-based advertising, with the focus of driving traffic that will translate into customer purchases. We believe that this is an appropriate strategy in the premium used car market, where customers are widely scattered and they engage in used car transactions relatively infrequently. We expect that these advertisements will generally fall into three areas: vertical automotive media, selected online channels and selected offline channels. In addition to paid channels, we intend to attract new customers through enhancing our media and public relations efforts, including organic marketing to enhance its reputation. Although we may have to expand our promotions from time to time, especially when we launch new services or products, we expect that our marketing expenses for these promotions will be relatively small when compared to those of our principal competitors.
Each of our Dealerships has a team of customer support specialists who provide assistance to the customers. Our specialists are available to assist customers with questions that arise throughout the car purchase process. These specialists are available via online chat or telephone and help our customers to navigate the website, answer specific questions and assist in loan applications. We take a consultative approach with customers, offering live support and acting as a trusted partner to guide them through each phase of the purchase lifecycle. We are committed to providing customers with a high-quality transaction experience. The effectiveness of our Kaixin model is reflected in our strong customer referrals. We focus on developing our customer support specialists and providing them with the information and resources that they need to offer exceptional customer services.
Our customers typically experience the following service stages:
Search and Discovery. We attract customers through a variety of channels, including referrals, walk-ins, especially for certain of our Dealerships located in prime areas, and online performance-based advertising. We believe that referrals are key to our customers as they want to purchase used cars from a business which they can trust. Our website and mobile apps allow prospective car buyers to instantly browse, research, filter and identify vehicles that interested them from an inventory of hundreds of automobiles that we offer for sale at any given time. We have also developed a series of innovative features to enhance customer experience and enable better product discovery, such as engaging images and other content, as well as easy-to-use site navigation tools and personalization features. In addition, we also utilize other online vertical channels such as Autohome and 58.com. When customers click on the listings, they are able to leave their contact information, which will be forwarded to our sales team at the relevant Dealership. A member of the Dealership sales team will make an appointment with the customer to visit the showroom.
Transaction Execution. A customer may decide to purchase a vehicle on the first visit to a Kaixin showroom, although in the premium segment, customers often spend some time before making a final purchase decision. Once a purchase decision has been made, the customer is able to complete the purchase at a Dealership Outlet and if desired, apply for a loan to purchase the car through one of our partners. They are able to complete purchases rapidly, pending only approval of financing when it is required. Once a loan is approved by one of our main financing partners, there is typically a waiting period of up to a few weeks before the bank releases the loans to the customer. We use our own capital during the interim period between approval and the release of funds by the financing partner. We strive to limit hidden fees, such that a single price we charge includes transfer of title and registration fees.
Financing and Payment. Through our financing partners, we offer down-payment and monthly payment combinations that allow customers to choose their preferred financing. We have integrated our system with that of our financing partner to allow customers to apply for financing online or on-site at our Dealership Outlets.
Trade-in. In the event a customer wishes to trade in an existing car, we can quickly provide a price estimation with our technology system powered by big data analytics. We typically offer favorable trade-in terms in connection with the sales.
Post-sale customer care. Once customers receive their cars, our customer service representatives manage the post-sale coordination and service call process. We believe our post-sale services help cement the confidence of our customers in the quality of our vehicles, which in turn leads to referrals and repeat purchases.
The PRC automobile marketplace is highly fragmented. There are more than 100,000 used car dealerships in the PRC, but the top 100 used car auto dealers collectively have less than 10% market share by trading volume, according to iResearch. A number of used vehicles are also bought and sold through privately negotiated transactions. We primarily compete on the basis of our deep understanding of consumers’ needs and offering of numerous product choices from our substantial inventory.
Our business is driven by data and technology at all stages of the process, from inventory purchasing, reconditioning, photography and annotation through online merchandising, sales, financing, logistics, and delivery. Our proprietary and exclusive technology portfolio includes the following aspects:
Through our mobile apps and website, we allow customers to conveniently browse vehicle inventory, arrange visits to showrooms, and understand the car purchasing process. Users are also able to pay deposits online once an automobile is selected and reserve it for purchase. Users who desire to sell their cars to us are able to input information to receive a price estimation for the sale of their car.
Dealer SaaS System
Our Dealer SaaS system is designed to cover every aspect of a car dealer’s daily operations, including finance, inventory, sales, procurement, vehicle assessment, and value-added services to improve operational efficiency. We also provide market data insights to assist dealers in their inventory procurement and marketing. All of our Dealerships can use this platform. In addition, our platform is open to Kaixin Affiliated Network Dealers. Any premium car dealer will be able to provide quality cars to our inventory system for other car dealers to choose from, improve the sharing and exchange of vehicle information and help to increase turnover rate. The Dealer SaaS system is supported by cloud-based functions, and we also provide certain functions via our mobile apps and website.
The following graphic depicts the structure and functions of our Dealer SaaS platform:
Research and Development
Our intellectual property includes trademarks and trademark applications related to our brands and services, copyrights in software, trade secrets, patent applications and other intellectual property rights and licenses. We seek to protect our intellectual property assets and brand through a combination of monitoring and enforcement of trademark, patent, copyright and trade secret protection laws in the PRC and other jurisdictions, as well as through confidentiality agreements and procedures.
In March 2018, Renren transferred to us the kaixin.com domain name and, in May 2018, an affiliate of Renren granted us an exclusive license to use its “Kaixin” brand. Further, we have successfully registered our brand name “开心汽车” which translates to “Kaixin Auto” in class 35 for services including promotion for others, purchase for others, providing online markets for sellers and purchasers of goods and services, marketing, etc., which is crucial to our business. However, trademark registrations in other categories related but less crucial to our business, including automobile maintenance, have not been obtained by us or an affiliate of Renren. Therefore, for such business, we are unable to prevent any third party from using the Kaixin brand for business that is the same or similar to ours. As China has adopted a “first-to-file” trademark registration system and there are trademarks similar to our brand which have been registered in those categories that are related to our business, We may not be able to successfully register our brand and may be exposed to risk of infringement with respect to third party trademark rights. For further details, see “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors—Risks Related to Our Business and Industry—We may be unable to prevent others from unauthorized use of its intellectual property, which could harm its business and competitive position.”
Our automobile sales business is affected by seasonality in automobile sales, which tends to affect dealers’ need for financing for new inventory. Automobile sales tend to be lower in the first quarter of each year than in the other three quarters due to the effect of the Chinese New Year holiday. As our auto sales business is still growing rapidly, seasonality may be less evident than it otherwise would be, and as the business continues to evolve, the nature of seasonality may change.
This section summarizes the current major PRC laws and regulations relevant to our business and operations.
Regulations on Used Automobile Trading
On August 29, 2005, SAT, SAIC, the Ministry of Commerce and the Ministry of Public Security jointly promulgated the Measures for the Administration of the Trading of Used Automobiles, or the Used Automobile Trading Measures, which became effective on October 1, 2005 and further revised on September 14, 2017. Pursuant to the Used Automobile Trading Measures, only an enterprise legal person duly registered with the SAIC or its local branches may engage in used automobile trading, as an operator of used automobiles markets, as a retailer, or as a brokerage entity.
Under the Used Automobile Trading Measures, a seller of used automobiles must verify certain background information regarding the automobiles for sale, including verification of the identity certificate and driver’s license of the previous owner, the number plate of the automobile, the motor vehicle registration certificate, proof that the automobile has passed the security technical examination, automobile insurance, and payment certificates of relevant taxes and fees. Used automobile retailers shall also provide quality guarantees as well as after-sales services, information about which shall be clearly indicated at its business location. Furthermore, under certain circumstances, used automobiles are prohibited from being resold, including instances where an automobile has been discarded as unusable, been required to be discarded, or been obtained by illegal means, such astheft, robbery or fraud.
On March 24, 2006, the Ministry of Commerce promulgated the Specifications for Used Automobile Trade, which provided detailed requirements as to the responsibilities of used automobiles trading entity regarding the trading of used automobiles, including confirming the identity of the seller and the legitimacy of the used automobiles, signing contract for used automobile trading, establishing transaction archives and keeping records for at least three years.
On June 8, 2016, the General Offices of 11 Departments including the Ministry of Commerce promulgated the Circular on Facilitating the Trading of Used Vehicles and Accelerating the Activation of Used Vehicles Market for the purpose of effectively implementing the relevant work listed in the Several Opinions of the State Council on Facilitating the Trading of Used Vehicles which promulgated on March 14, 2016 by the State Council.
Regulations on Automobile Sales
On April 5, 2017, the Ministry of Commerce promulgated the Measures on the Administrations of Sales of Automobile, or the Measures on Sales of Automobile, which came into effect on July 1, 2017 and the original Implementation Measures for the Administration of Sales of Branded Automobile, or the “Branded Automobile Sales Measures” was abolished at the same time. According to the Measures on Sales of Automobile, the supplier and distributors of automobiles within the territory of the PRC shall build up an integrated system for automobile sales and after-sales services, guarantee supply of the related auto accessory, provide timely and effective after-sales services, and strictly follow the regulations concerning, among others, 3R (i.e. “replace, repair and refund”) and recall of household automobiles to guarantee consumers’ legitimate rights and interests. A dealer who sells an automobile without authorization from a supplier or an automobile which is not authorized to be sold by an automobile manufacturer outside the country shall provide a reminder and explanation to the consumer in writing and inform the consumer of the relevant responsibilities in writing. When the dealer sells the car to the consumer, it shall verify the valid identity of the registered consumers, sign the sales contract, and issue the sales invoice.
Regulations on Parallel-import Automobile Sales
On February 22, 2016, the Ministry of Commerce, the MIIT, Ministry of Environmental Protection, Ministry of Transport, General Administration of Customs, General Administration of Quality Supervision and Inspection and Quarantine and Certification and Accreditation Administration of the People’s Republic of China jointly issued Several Opinions on Promotion of Pilot Program of Parallel-import Automobile, or the Parallel-import Automobile Opinions. According to the Parallel-import Automobile Opinions, the pilot enterprises of Parallel-import Automobile can import automobile and establish a distribution network without authorization from a supplier, and can apply for an automatic import license for automobile product according to its actual business operation requirements. Pilot enterprises shall be subject to the relevant regulations on the administration of automatic import license, submit the license for verification and complete the customs formalities at the import entrance.
On April 27, 2017, Shanghai Municipal Commission of Commerce and China (Shanghai) Pilot Free Trade Zone Administration jointly issued Notice on Adjustment on the Pilot Enterprises of Parallel-import Automobile in China (Shanghai) Pilot Free Trade Zone, which requires that the pilot enterprises registered in China (Shanghai) Pilot Free Trade Zone obtain an automatic import license to sell imported automobile without authorization from the automobile producer, and meet the following requirements to operate parallel-import Automobile business: (1) it has been operating sales of imported automobile for at least one year and its sales business has reached a certain scale; (2) the pilot enterprise or any of its wholly owned enterprises/controlling enterprises with automobile sales certificate is registered in China (Shanghai) Pilot Free Trade Zone; (3) it has branches and facilities for maintenance, service and supply of auto parts that match its business scale. Any pilot enterprise failed to meet this requirement shall depend on a third party to provide such services to participate in the pilot program; (4) it has good reputation and has well-established purchasing channels of oversea automobile and experiences in automobile sales industry; and (5) the enterprises that have participated in the pilot program and had parallel-import records on Shanghai port shall be prioritized.
On January 30, 2018, the Ministry of Commerce, the MIIT, the Ministry of Environmental Protection, the Ministry of Transport, the General Administration of Customs, the General Administration of Quality Supervision and Inspection and Quarantine, and the Certification and Accreditation Administration of the People’s Republic of China jointly issued a Reply on Issues for Conducting Pilot Programs for the Parallel-import of Automobiles in Inner Mongolia and the Other Areas, or the Parallel-import Automobile Reply, approving automobile parallel import pilot programs in the Manchuria Port of Inner Mongolia, Zhangjiagang Free Trade Zone in Jiangsu Province, Zhengzhou Railway Port in Henan Province, Yueyang Lingji Port in Hunan Province, Qinzhou Free Trade Zone in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Haikou Port in Hainan Province, Railway Port in Chongqing, and Qingdao Qianwan Free Trade Zone.
On February 13, 2018, the General Administration of Customs issued a Notice on Further Completing the Pilot Programs for the Parallel-import of Automobiles, which requires that pilot enterprises shall submit (1) a certificate on conducting parallel-import automobile business; (2) a parallel-import automobile warehousing agreement executed between the pilot enterprise and a warehousing enterprise; and (3) other related documents as required to the Customs Administration before engaging in the automobile parallel-import business. Such filing forms must be filed at the time the parallel-import automobiles enter the border, and such forms shall be marked “parallel-import automobiles”.
On August 19, 2019, the Ministry of Commerce, the MIIT, the Ministry of Public Security, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, the Ministry of Transport, the General Administration of Customs and the State Administration for Market Regulation jointly issued the Opinions of Seven Authorities Including the Ministry of Commerce on Further Boosting the Development of the Parallel Import of Automobiles: (1) allowing the exploration of ways to set up the standard compliance rectification venues for the parallel import of automobiles; (2) further improving the trade facilitation level of the parallel import of automobiles; (3) strengthening the quality control of automobiles under parallel import; (4) standardizing the registration management of automobiles under parallel import; (5) promoting the normalization and institutionalization of the parallel import of automobiles; (6) strengthening the supervision and management of pilot enterprises; and (7) strengthening the practical organizational implementation.
Regulations on the Car Rental Industry
On April 2, 2011, the Ministry of Transport, or MOT, promulgated the Circular on Promoting the Healthy Development of the Car Rental Industry, or the MOT Circular, which sets forth guidelines for the car rental industry, including, among others, encouraging large car rental enterprises to establish a national or regional car rental network.
According to the MOT Circular, local government authorities are required by the MOT to: (i) promulgate local rules and regulations to improve and develop the regulatory environment of the car rental industry; (ii) promptly bring forth local development plans for the car rental industry; (iii) encourage large and reputable car rental companies with sound management to set up branches and establish national or regional networks, and provide simplified branch office registration process and better service for companies with a fleet of more than 1,000 cars; (iv) enhance the administration and management of the car rental industry, including requirements to obtain and carry a valid permit or license for each rental car, and prohibitions of car rental companies from engaging in road passenger transportation services without having the requisite business license for these services; (v) encourage car rental companies to develop various types of services through advanced technologies; (vi) create a favorable development environment for car rental companies; and (vii) enhance the administration of the car rental industry.
Regulations on Maintenance of Motor Vehicles
The Regulations on Road Transport, issued by the State Council on April 30, 2004 and amended on November 9, 2012, February 6, 2016 and March 2, 2019 stipulate that any individuals or institutions engaging in business related to road transportation, including maintenance of motor vehicles, must meet requirements including: (i) appropriate locations for motor vehicle maintenance; (ii) necessary equipment, facilities and technicians; (iii) appropriate management systems for motor vehicle maintenance; and (iv) necessary environmental protection measures. A company engaging in motor vehicle maintenance must apply to the local road transportation authority to obtain a road transportation operation license after it has become duly registered. Operators engaging in motor vehicle maintenance must maintain or repair all motor vehicles in accordance with the relevant technical specifications of the State to ensure maintenance quality and must not use any counterfeit or low-quality parts to maintain or repair any motor vehicle. Violation of these regulations may result in an order ceasing operation and imposing a fine of up to RMB50,000 by the local road transportation authority.
The Regulations on Administration of Maintenance of Motor Vehicle, issued by the Department of Transportation on June 24, 2005 and amended on August 8, 2015, April 19, 2016 and June 21, 2019, defines motor vehicle maintenance business to include maintenance of automobiles, vehicles for transportation of dangerous cargo, motorcycles, and other vehicles. The maintenance of automobiles is further classified into three categories depending on the specific business scope. The regulation further clarifies the requirements and reference standards for locations, equipment, technicians, management systems and environmental protection measures, as well as the procedure of application for the road transportation license. Moreover, operators of motor vehicle maintenance services are subject to several requirements during operation, including having its operation permit visible on a signboard at its service operation location.
Regulations on Financing Leasing
In September 2013, MOFCOM issued the Administration Measures of Supervision on Financing Lease Enterprises, or the Leasing Measures, to regulate and administer the business operations of financing lease enterprises. According to the Leasing Measures, financing lease enterprises are allowed to carry out financing lease business in such forms as direct lease, sublease, sale-and-lease-back, leveraged lease, entrusted lease and joint lease in accordance with the provisions of relevant laws, regulations and rules. However, the Leasing Measures prohibit financing lease enterprises from engaging in financial businesses such as accepting deposits, and providing loans or entrusted loans. Without the approval from the relevant authorities, financing lease enterprises shall not engage in inter-bank borrowing and other businesses. In addition, financing lease enterprises are prohibited from carrying out illegal fund-raising activities in the name of financing lease. The Leasing Measures require financing lease enterprises to establish and improve their financing and internal risk control system, and a financing lease enterprise’s risk assets shall not exceed ten times of its total net assets. Risk assets generally refer to the adjusted total assets of a financing lease enterprises excluding cash, bank deposits, sovereign bonds and entrusted leasing assets.
Regulations on Vehicle Leasing Programs Operating on a Sale-and-Leaseback Basis
On September 18, 2013, the Ministry of Commerce issued Administrative Measures for the Supervision of Financial Leasing Enterprises which require, in part, that financial leasing enterprises have assets and risk management abilities sufficient for their proposed business activities. These measures also require that foreign investors applying for the establishment of a financial leasing enterprise must comply with the relevant provisions on foreign investment. The Guidance of the General Office of the State Council on Accelerating the Development of Financing Leasing Industry issued by the General Office of the State Council in 2015 requires to establish a unified administrative and regulatory system for domestic as well as foreign investment in the leasing industry. According to the Guidance, foreign investment in the leasing industry is entitled to enjoy the same treatment as its domestic counterpart in terms of the business scope, trading rules, regulatory indicators, information submission as well as the inspection.
The Stipulation on Motor Vehicle Registration issued on May 27, 2008 and amended on September 12, 2012 by the Ministry of Public Security states that the new owner of a vehicle must submit an application for registration of transfer to the local vehicle administration office within 30 days after the delivery of the vehicle. Also, under the PRC Civil Code effective as of January 1, 2021, the transfer of movable property is effective upon delivery, but if the transfer of the property right of a vehicle has not been officially registered, it will not be valid against a good faith third-party transferee.
Our loans to dealerships are structured on a finance lease basis, whereby the entity lessor sells us the vehicle before leasing it back from us, making payments over time. However, for accounting purposes the transaction is not treated as a sale due to the economic substance of the transaction. Notwithstanding this arrangement, we do not update the vehicle registrations to reflect our purchase of leased vehicles nor file mortgage registrations for the leased vehicles. Consequently, we lack unambiguous legal basis to prevent a good-faith third-party buyer from taking legal title to a vehicle if the lessor attempts to sell the vehicle without our knowledge. See “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors—Risks Related to Doing Business in China—We rely on contractual obligations rather than government filings to ensure its continued title to vehicles managed under its vehicle leasing program.”
Anti-money Laundering Regulations
The PRC Anti-money Laundering Law, which became effective in January 2007, sets forth the principal anti-money laundering requirements applicable to financial institutions as well as non-financial institutions with anti-money laundering obligations, including the adoption of precautionary and supervisory measures, establishment of various systems for client identification, retention of clients’ identification information and transactions records, and reports on large transactions and suspicious transactions. According to the PRC Anti-money Laundering Law, financial institutions subject to the PRC Anti-money Laundering Law include banks, credit unions, trust investment companies, stock brokerage companies, futures brokerage companies, insurance companies and other financial institutions as listed and published by the State Council, while the list of the non-financial institutions with anti-money laundering obligations will be published by the State Council. The PBOC and other governmental authorities issued a series of administrative rules and regulations to specify the anti-money laundering obligations of financial institutions and certain non-financial institutions, such as payment institutions. However, the State Council has not promulgated the list of the non-financial institutions with anti-money laundering obligations.
The General Office of the State Council promulgated the Opinions on Improving Anti-Money Laundering, Anti-Terrorism Financing and Anti-Tax Evasion Regulatory Systems and Mechanisms on August 29, 2017. According to the Opinions, the establishment of anti-money laundering financial regulatory systems for particular non-financial institutions is required to meet the international anti-money laundering standards that certain industries prone to high risks of money laundering, such as real estate agents, precious metal and jewelry sales, corporate services and other specific non-financial industries shall be strictly regulated.
Regulations on Illegal Fund-Raising
Raising funds by entities or individuals from the general public must be conducted in strict compliance with the applicable PRC laws and regulations to avoid administrative and criminal liabilities. The Measures for the Banning of Illegal Financial Institutions and Illegal Financial Business Operations promulgated by the State Council in July 1998 and revised in January 2011, and the Notice on Relevant Issues Concerning the Penalty on Illegal Fund-Raising issued by the General Office of the State Council in July 2007, explicitly prohibit illegal public fund-raising. The main features of illegal public fund-raising include: (i) illegally soliciting and raising funds from the general public by means of issuing stocks, bonds, lotteries or other securities without obtaining the approval of relevant authorities; (ii) promising a return of interest or profits or investment returns in cash, properties or other forms within a specified period of time; and (iii) using a legitimate form to disguise the unlawful purpose.
To further clarify the criminal charges and punishments relating to illegal public fund-raising, the Supreme People’s Court promulgated the Judicial Interpretations to Issues Concerning Applications of Laws for Trial of Criminal Cases on Illegal Fund-Raising, or the Illegal Fund-Raising Judicial Interpretations, which came into force in January 2011. The Illegal Fund-Raising Judicial Interpretations provide that a public fund-raising will constitute a criminal offense related to “illegally soliciting deposits from the public” under the PRC Criminal Law, if it meets all the following four criteria: (i) the fundraising has not been approved by the relevant authorities or is concealed under the disguise of legitimate acts; (ii) the fund-raising employs general solicitation or advertising such as social media, promotion meetings, leafleting and SMS advertising; (iii) the fundraiser promises to repay, after a specified period of time, the capital and interests, or investment returns in cash, properties in kind and other forms; and (iv) the fund-raising targets at the general public as opposed to specific individuals. An illegal fund-raising activity will be fined or prosecuted in the event that it constitutes a criminal offense. Pursuant to the Illegal Fund-Raising Judicial Interpretations, an offender that is an entity will be subject to criminal liabilities, if it illegally solicits deposits from the general public or illegally solicits deposits in disguised form (i) with the amount of deposits involved exceeding RMB1,000,000 (US$153,697); (ii) with over 150 fund-raising targets involved; (iii) with the direct economic loss caused to fund-raising targets exceeding RMB500,000 (US$76,849); or (iv) the illegal fund-raising activities have caused baneful influences to the public or have led to other severe consequences. An individual offender is also subject to criminal liabilities but with lower thresholds. In addition, an individual or an entity who has aided in illegal fund-raising from the general public and charges fees including but not limited to agent fees, rewards, rebates and commission, constitute an accomplice of the crime of illegal fund-raising. In accordance with the Opinions of the Supreme People’s Court, the Supreme People’s Procurator and the Ministry of Public Security on Several Issues concerning the Application of Law in the Illegal Fund-Raising Criminal Cases promulgated on March 25, 2014, the administrative proceeding for determining the nature of illegal fund-raising activities is not a prerequisite procedure for the initiation of criminal proceeding concerning the crime of illegal fund-raising, and the administrative departments’ failure in determining the nature of illegal fund-raising activities does not affect the investigation, prosecution and trial of cases concerning the crime of illegal fundraising.
Regulations on Foreign Investment
Investment activities in the PRC by foreign investors are principally governed by the Guidance Catalog of Industries for Foreign Investment promulgated and as amended from time to time by the MOFCOM and the NDRC, or the Catalog. In June 2017, the MOFCOM and the NDRC promulgated the Catalog, or 2017 Revision, which became effective in July 2017. Industries listed in the Catalog are divided into two parts: encouraged category, and the special management measures for the entry of foreign investment, which is further divided into the restricted category and prohibited category. The negative list of the 2017 Revision was replaced by the Special Administrative Measures for Access to Foreign Investment, or the Negative List, in June 2020, which became effective in July 2020. Industries not listed in the Catalog are generally deemed to be in a fourth “permitted” category and are generally open to foreign investment unless specifically restricted by other PRC regulations. The Negative List, in a unified manner, lists the restrictive measures for the entry of foreign investment. Furthermore, foreign investors are not allowed to invest in companies and industries under the prohibited category. For the industries not listed on the Negative List, the restrictive measures for the entry of foreign investment shall not apply in principle, and the establishment of wholly foreign-owned enterprises in such industries is generally allowed.
In March, 2019, the Foreign Investment Law was enacted by the NPC, which became effective in January 1, 2020. The Foreign Investment Law replaced the Law on Sino-Foreign Equity Joint Ventures, the Law on Sino-Foreign Contractual Joint Ventures and the Law on Foreign-Capital Enterprises to become the legal foundation for foreign investment in the PRC. The Foreign Investment Law embodies an expected PRC regulatory trend to rationalize its foreign investment regulatory regime in line with prevailing international practice and the legislative efforts to unify the corporate legal requirements for both foreign and domestic investments.
Unlike its first draft which was published in 2015, the Foreign Investment Law does not specifically expand the definition of “foreign investment” to include entities established through a VIE structure but contains a catch-all provision under the definition of “foreign investment” which includes investments made by foreign investors through means stipulated in laws or administrative regulations or other methods prescribed by the State Council.
Moreover, the Measures for Reporting of Information on Foreign Investment promulgated by the MOFCOM in December 2019 established a foreign investment information reporting system. Foreign investors or foreign-funded enterprises shall submit the investment information to competent governmental departments for commerce through the enterprise registration system and the enterprise credit information publicity system. The contents and scope of foreign investment information to be reported shall be determined under the principle of necessity. Where foreign-investors or foreign-invested enterprises are found to be non-compliant with these information reporting obligations, competent department for commerce shall order corrections within a specified period; if such corrections are not made in time, a penalty of not less than RMB100,000 and not more than RMB500,000 shall be imposed. Aside from the reporting system for foreign investment information, the Foreign Investment Law also establishes a security examination mechanism for foreign investment to conduct security review of foreign investment that affects or may affect national security. The decision made upon the security examination in accordance with the law shall be final.
We will be subject to the Foreign Investment Law if our contractual arrangements with our VIEs are defined or regarded as a form of foreign investment in the future.
Regulations on Value-Added Telecommunications Services
In 2000, the State Council promulgated the Telecommunications Regulations which draw a distinction between “basic telecommunication services” and “value-added telecommunication services.” The Telecommunications Regulations were subsequently revised in 2014 and again in 2016. In December 2015, the MIIT published the Classification Catalogue of Telecommunications Services, or the 2015 Catalogue, which took effect on March 1, 2016 and amended on June 6, 2019. The first catalogue was published in September 2000 and was subsequently amended in 2001 and 2003, respectively. Under the 2015 Catalogue, “value-added telecommunication services” was further classified into two sub-categories and 10 items. Internet content provision services, or ICP services, is under the second subcategory of value- added telecommunications businesses. Under the Telecommunications Regulations, commercial operators of value-added telecommunications services must first obtain an operating license from the MIIT or its provincial level counterparts.
In 2000, the State Council issued the Administrative Measures on Internet Information Services, or the Internet Measures, which were subsequently revised in 2011. According to the Internet Measures, commercial ICP service operators must obtain an ICP license from the relevant government authorities before engaging in any commercial ICP operations within the PRC.
In 2009, the MIIT promulgated the Administrative Measures on Telecommunications Business Operating License, or the Telecom License Measures. On July 3, 2017, Telecom License Measures was further revised and it became effective on September 1, 2017. The Telecom License Measures set forth the types of licenses required to operate value-added telecommunications services and the qualifications and procedures for obtaining such licenses. For example, an ICP operator providing value-added services in multiple provinces is required to obtain an interregional license, whereas an ICP operator providing the same services in one province is required to obtain a local license.
Restrictions on Foreign Ownership in Value-Added Telecommunications Services
According to the Provisions on Administration of Foreign Invested Telecommunications Enterprises, or the FITE Provisions, promulgated by the State Council in December 2001 and amended in September 2008 and February 2016, the ultimate foreign equity ownership in a value-added telecommunications service provider must not exceed 50%. Moreover, for a foreign investor to acquire any equity interest in a value-added telecommunication business in China, it must demonstrate a good track record and experiences in operating value-added telecommunications services. Foreign investors that meet these requirements must obtain approvals from the MIIT or its authorized local branches.
In 2006, the MIIT issued the Notice of the MIIT on Intensifying the Administration of Foreign Investment in Value-added Telecommunications Services. This notice prohibits domestic telecommunication services providers from leasing, transferring or selling telecommunications business operating licenses to any foreign investor in any form, or providing any resources, sites or facilities to any foreign investor for their illegal operation of a telecommunications business in China. According to this notice, either the holder of a value-added telecommunication business operating license or its shareholders must legally own the domain names and trademarks used by such license holders in their provision of value-added telecommunication services. The notice further requires each license holder to have the necessary facilities, including servers, for its approved business operations and to maintain such facilities in the regions covered by its license. In addition, all value-added telecommunications service providers are required to maintain network and internet security in accordance with the standards set forth in the Basic Requirements for Safeguarding the Network Information of Value- added Telecommunication Business (YDN126-2005) issued by the MIIT. If a license holder fails to comply with the requirements in the notice and cure such non-compliance, the MIIT or its local counterparts may have the discretion to take measures against such license holders, including revoking their value-added telecommunications business operating licenses.
To comply with these regulations, we operate our website through our VIEs. One of our VIEs, Shanghai Jieying, has obtained an ICP license.
Regulations on Internet Publishing
The Administrative Provisions on Online Publishing Services, or the Online Publishing Provisions, was jointly issued by the MIIT and the State General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television in 2016, and came into effect on March 10, 2016. The Online Publishing Provisions define “online publishing services” as providing online publications to the public through information networks. Any online publishing services provided in the territory of the PRC are subject to these provisions. The Online Publishing Provisions requires any internet publishing services provider to obtain an online publishing service license to engage in online publishing services. Under the Online Publishing Provisions, online publications refer to digital works which have publishing features such as digital work that have been edited, produced or processed and which are made available to the public through information networks, including written works, pictures, maps, games, cartoons, audio/video reading materials and other methods. Any online game must obtain approval from the State Administration of Radio and Television before it is launched online. Furthermore, Sino-foreign equity joint ventures, Sino-foreign cooperative joint ventures and wholly foreign-owned enterprises cannot engage in the providing of web publishing services.
Regulations on Mobile Internet Applications
On June 28, 2016, the Cyberspace Administration of China promulgated the Administrative Provisions on Mobile Internet Applications Information Services, or the Mobile Application Administrative Provisions, which took effect on August 1, 2016. According to the Mobile Application Administrative Provisions, “mobile internet application” refers to application software that runs on mobile smart devices providing information services after being pre-installed, downloaded or embedded through other means. “Mobile internet application provider” refers to the owners or operators of mobile internet applications. Internet application stores refer to platforms which provide services related to online browsing, searching and downloading of application software and releasing of development tools and products through the internet. On December 16, 2016, the MIIT promulgated the Interim Administrative Provisions on the Pre-installation and Distribution of the Mobile Smart Terminal Application Software, which took effect on July 1, 2017. These provisions require, among others, that internet information service providers must ensure that a mobile application, as well as its ancillary resource files, configuration files and user data can be uninstalled by a user easily, unless the mobile application is a basic function software, which refers to a software that supports the normal functioning of the hardware and operating system of a mobile smart device. In addition, mobile smart terminal application software involving charges should strictly comply with the relevant regulations such as explicitly marking the price, charge standard and charge method. The content expressed should be true, accurate, eye-catching and normative, and users should be charged only after their confirmation.
Pursuant to the Mobile Application Administrative Provisions, an internet application program provider must verify a user’s mobile phone number and other identity information under the principle of mandatory real name registration at the back-office end and voluntary real name display at the front-office end. An internet application provider must not enable functions that can collect a user’s geographical location information, access the user’s contact list, activate the camera or recorder of the user’s mobile smart device or other functions irrelevant to its services, nor is it allowed to conduct bundle installations of irrelevant application programs, unless it has clearly indicated to the user and obtained the user’s consent on such functions and application programs. In respect of an internet application service provider, the Mobile Application Administrative Provisions require that, among others, it must file a record with the provincial authority within 30 days after it rolls out the internet application service online. It must also examine the authenticity, security and legality of internet application providers on its platform, establish a system to monitor application providers’ credit and file a record of such information with the relevant governmental authorities. If an application provider violates the regulations, the internet application store service provider must take measures to stop the violations, including warning, suspension of release, withdrawal of the application from the platform, keeping a record and reporting the incident to the relevant governmental authorities.
Regulations on Information Security
The Ministry of Public Security promulgated the Administrative Measures on Security Protection for International Connections to Computer Information Networks in 1997 and further revised in 2011 that prohibit the use of the internet in ways which, among other things, result in a leakage of state secrets or the distribution of socially destabilizing content. Socially destabilizing content includes any content that incites defiance or violations of the PRC laws or regulations or subversion of the PRC government or its political system, spreads socially disruptive rumors or involves cult activities, superstition, obscenities, pornography, gambling or violence. State secrets are defined broadly to include information concerning PRC national defense, state affairs and other matters as determined by the PRC governmental authorities. In addition, the National Administration for the Protection of State Secrets has issued The Confidentiality Administrative Provisions of the International Networking of Computer Information Systems authorizing the blocking of access to any website which deems to be leaking state secrets or failing to comply with the relevant legislation regarding the protection of state secrets.
In 2005, the Ministry of Public Security promulgated Provisions on Technological Measures for Internet Security Protection, which require all ICP operators to keep records of certain information about their users (including user registration information, log-in and log-out time, IP address, content and time of posts by users) for at least 60 days and submit the above information as required by laws and regulations. The ICP operators must regularly update information security systems for their websites with local public security authorities and must also report any public dissemination of prohibited content. If an ICP operator violates these measures, the PRC government may revoke its ICP license and shut down its websites.
In November 2016, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress issued the Cyber Security Law, which came into effect on June 1, 2017. This is the first Chinese law that focuses exclusively on cyber security. The Cyber Security Law provides that network operators must set up internal security management systems that meet the requirements of a classified protection system for cybersecurity, includes the appointing of dedicated cybersecurity personnel, implementing technical measures to prevent computer viruses, network attacks and intrusions, adopting technical measures to monitor and record network operation status and cybersecurity incidents, and implementing data security measures such as data classification, backup and encryption. The Cyber Security Law also imposes a relatively vague but broad obligation to provide technical support and assistance to the public and state security authorities in connection with criminal investigations or for reasons of national security. The Cyber Security Law also requires network operators that provide network access or domain name registration services, landline or mobile phone network access, or that provide users with information publication or instant messaging services, to require users to provide a real identity when they sign up. The Cyber Security Law sets high requirements for the operational security of facilities deemed to be part of the PRC’s “critical information infrastructure.” These requirements include data localization, i.e., storing personal information and important business data in China, and national security review requirements for any network products or services that may have an impact on national security. Among other factors, “critical information infrastructure” is defined as critical information infrastructure that will, in the event of destruction, loss of function or data leak, result in serious damage to national security, the national economy and people’s livelihood, or the public interest. Specific reference is made to key sectors such as public communication and information services, energy, transportation, water-resources, finance, public service and e-government. However, no official guidelines as to the scope of “critical information infrastructure” have been formally issued.
Regulations on Internet Privacy
In recent years, the PRC governmental authorities have enacted legislation on internet use to protect personal information from any unauthorized disclosure. The PRC law does not prohibit ICP operators from collecting and analyzing personal information of their users. However, the Administrative Measures on Internet Information Services prohibit an ICP operator from insulting or slandering a third party or infringing the lawful rights and interests of a third party. Pursuant to the Decision on Strengthening Network Information Protection promulgated by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress in 2012, ICP operators that provide electronic messaging services must keep users’ personal information confidential and must not disclose such personal information to any third parties without the users’ consent or unless required by law. The regulations further authorize the relevant telecommunications authorities to order ICP operators to rectify unauthorized disclosure. ICP operators are subject to legal liabilities if the unauthorized disclosure results in damages or losses to users. The PRC government, however, has the power and authority to order ICP operators to turn over personal information if an internet user posts any prohibited content or engages in illegal activities on the internet. In December 2011, the MIIT promulgated the Several Provisions on Regulating the Market Order of Internet Information Services, which became effective in March 2012. Without obtaining the consent from the users, telecommunication business operators and ICP operators may not collect or use the users’ personal information. The personal information collected or used in the course of provision of services by the telecommunication business operators or ICP operators must be kept in strict confidence, and may not be divulged, tampered with or damaged, and may not be sold or illegally provided to others. The ICP operators are required to take certain measures to prevent any divulge, damage, tamper or loss of users’ personal information.
In December 2012, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress of the PRC issued the Decision on Strengthening the Protection of Online Information. Under this decision, ICP operators are required to take such technical and other measures necessary to safeguard information against inappropriate disclosure. To further implement this decision and the relevant rules, MIIT issued the Regulation of Protection of Telecommunication and Internet User Information in 2013.
In November 2016, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress issued the Cyber Security Law, which came into effect on June 1, 2017. The Cyber Security Law imposes certain data protection obligations on network operators, including that network operators may not disclose, tamper with, or damage users’ personal information that they have collected, and that they are obligated to delete unlawfully collected information and to amend incorrect information. Moreover, internet operators may not provide users’ personal information to others without consent. Exempted from these rules is information irreversibly processed to preclude identification of specific individuals. Also, the Cyber Security Law imposes breach notification requirements that will apply to breaches involving personal information.
On April 10, 2019, the Cyber Security and Protection Bureau of the Ministry of Public Security, the Beijing Internet Industry Association and the Third Research Institute of the Ministry of Public Security jointly issued the Internet Personal Information Security Protection Guide, or the Guide. The Guide is applicable to enterprises that provide services through the internet, as well as organizations or individuals who use a private or non-networked environment to control and process personal information. This indicates that in addition to the traditional internet companies, companies or individuals in other fields, as long as they involve the control and processing of personal information, are all in the scope of the Guide. The Guide imposes higher requirements on the collection of personal information by personal information holders. For example, the Guide states that personal information that is not related to the services provided by personal information holders should not be collected, and personal information should not be forced to be collected by bundling products or various business functions of the service.
In November 2019, the Secretary Bureau of the Cyberspace Administration of China, the General Office of the MIIT, the General Office of the Ministry of Public Security and the General Office of the State Administration for Market Regulation issued the Notice on the Measures for the Determination of the Collection and Use of Personal Information by Apps in Violation of Laws and Regulations, or the Notice, which came into effect on November 28, 2019. According to the Notice, if the personal information solicited by an app for a new service function is beyond the scope of a user’s original consent, it is a violation of law for the app to refuse to provide the original service function if the user disagrees with the new scope, unless the new service function is a replacement of the original service function.
Regulations on Advertisements
Advertisers, advertising operators and advertising distributors are required by PRC advertising laws and regulations to ensure that the contents of the advertisements which they prepare or distribute are true and in full compliance with the applicable laws and regulations. In addition, where a special government review is required for certain categories of advertisements before publishing, the advertisers, advertising operators and advertising distributors are obligated to confirm that such review has been performed and the relevant approval has been obtained. Violation of these regulations may result in penalties, including fines, confiscation of advertising income, orders to cease dissemination of the advertisements and orders to publish an advertisement correcting the misleading information. In the case of serious violations, the State Administration for Industry and Commerce or its local branches may force the violator to terminate its advertising operation or even revoke its business license. Furthermore, advertisers, advertising operators or advertising distributors may be subject to civil liabilities if they infringe on the legal rights and interests of the third parties.
In April 2015, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress issued the PRC Advertising Law or the Advertising Law, which came into effect on September 1, 2015 and was amended on October 26, 2018. The Advertising Law applies to all advertising activities conducted via the internet. The Advertising Law requires that users must be able to close online pop-up ads with one click. Moreover, internet service providers are obligated to cease publishing any advertisements that they know or should know are illegal. Violation of these regulations may result in penalties, including fines, confiscation of the advertising incomes, termination of advertising operations and even suspension of the provider’s business license.
In July 2016, the SAIC issued the Interim Measures for the Administration of Internet Advertising, which became effective on September 1, 2016. These interim measures clarify that “internet advertisements” means commercial advertisements that promote commodities or services directly or indirectly via internet media such as websites, webpages and internet applications in the form of texts, pictures, audio, video or other forms. These interim measures also create a number of new requirements for internet advertisers. For example, these interim measures state that paid search advertisements should be clearly distinguished from ordinary search results. In addition, in consistency with the Advertising Law, these interim measures require that advertisements published on internet pages in the form of pop-ups or other similar forms shall be clearly marked with a “close” button to ensure “one click to close.” The measures also prohibit unfair competition in internet advertisement publishing, including: (1) providing or using any programs or hardware to intercept or filter any legally operated advertisements of other persons; and (2) using network pathways, network equipment or applications to disrupt the normal data transmission of advertisements, alter or block legally operated advertisements of other persons or load advertisements without authorization. Violation of these regulations may result in the imposing of fine of no more than RMB30,000, with any punishments administrated by the Administrative Authority for Industry and Commerce in the place where the advertisement publisher is located.
In February 2018, the SAIC promulgated the Notice on Launching Special Overhaul of Internet Advertising, or the Internet Advertising Notice. The Internet Advertising Notice specifies that the illegal Internet advertisements having an adverse social impact, generating enormous publicity, or detrimental to the personal and property safety of the public via Internet media, shall be strictly regulated.
Regulations on Internet Finance Services
In July 2015, ten PRC regulatory agencies, including the People’s Bank of China, or the PBOC, the MIIT and the China Banking Regulatory Commission, or the CBRC, jointly issued the Guidelines on Promoting the Healthy Development of Internet Finance, or the Guidelines. The Guidelines call for active government support of China’s internet finance industry, including the online peer-to-peer lending service industry, and clarify the division of responsibility among regulatory agencies. The Guidelines specify that the CBRC will have primary regulatory responsibility for the online peer-to-peer lending service industry in China and state that online peer-to-peer lending service providers shall act as an intermediary platform to provide information exchange, matching, credit assessment and other intermediary services, and must not provide credit enhancement services and/or engage in illegal fund-raising. The Guidelines provide additional requirements for China’s internet finance industry, including the use of custody accounts with qualified banks to hold customer funds as well as information disclosure requirements.
In August 2016, four PRC regulatory agencies, including the CBRC, the MIIT, the Ministry of Public Security and Cyberspace Administration of China, published the Interim Measures for the Administration of the Business Activities of Online Lending Information Intermediary Institution, or Interim Measures. The Interim Measures define online lending intermediaries as the financial information intermediaries that are engaged in online peer-to-peer lending information business and provide lenders and borrowers with lending information services, such as information collection and publication, credit rating, information interaction and loan facilitation. Consistent with the Guidelines, the Interim Measures prohibit online lending intermediaries from providing credit enhancement services and collecting funds directly or indirectly, and require, among others, (i) that online lending intermediaries intending to provide online lending information agency services and its subsidiaries and branches must make relevant record-filing with local financial regulatory authorities with which it is registered after obtaining the business license; (ii) that online lending intermediaries operating telecommunication services must apply for relevant telecommunication service license after the completion of the record-filing and registration with the local financial regulatory authority; and (iii) that online lending intermediaries must materially specify the online lending information intermediary in the business scope.
The Interim Measures list the following businesses that an online lending intermediary must not, by itself or on behalf of a third party, participate in: (i) financing for themselves whether or not in disguised form; (ii) accepting or collecting directly or indirectly the funds of lenders; (iii) providing lenders with guarantee or promise on guarantee of principal and interest directly or in disguised form; (iv) publicizing or promoting financing projects at physical locations or entrusting or authorizing a third party to do so; (v) extending loans, except otherwise as provided by laws and regulations; (vi) splitting the term of any financing project; (vii) offering wealth management and other financial products by themselves to raise funds, and selling as an agent bank wealth management, securities company asset management, fund, insurance or trust products and other financial products; (viii) conducting asset securitization business or realizing transfer of creditors’ rights in the forms of asset packaging, asset securitization, trust assets, fund shares, etc.; (ix) engaging in any form of mixture, bundling or agency with other institutions in investment, agency in sale, brokerage and other business except as permitted by laws, regulations and relevant regulatory provisions on online peer-to-peer lending; (x) falsifying or exaggerating earnings outlook of financing projects, concealing the defects and risks of financing projects, making false advertising or promotion, etc., by using ambiguous words or other fraudulent means, fabricating or spreading false or incomplete information impairing the business reputation of others or misleading lenders or borrowers; (xi) providing information and intermediary services for high-risk financing which uses the borrowed funds for investment in stocks, over-the-counter fund distribution, futures contracts, structured funds and other derivative products; (xii) engaging in businesses such as crowd-funding in equity; and (xiii) other activities prohibited by the laws, regulations and the regulatory provisions on online peer-to-peer lending. In addition, the Interim Measures stipulate that online lending intermediaries shall not operate businesses other than risk management and necessary business processes such as information collection and confirmation, post-loan tracking and pledge management in accordance with the online lending regulations, via offline physical locations. Furthermore, the Interim Measures provide that online lending intermediaries shall, based on their risk management capabilities, set upper limits on the loan balance of a single borrower borrowing both from one online lending intermediary and from all online lending intermediaries. In the case of natural persons, this limit shall not be more than RMB200,000 for one online lending intermediary and not more than RMB1 million in total from all platforms, while the limit for a legal person or organization shall not be more than RMB1 million for one online lending intermediary and not more than RMB5 million in total from all platforms. Moreover, the Interim Measures require that each online lending intermediary (i) separates its own capital from funds received from lenders and borrowers; and (ii) selects a qualified banking financial institution as its funding custodian institution, which shall perform custody and administrative responsibilities as required.
On October 28, 2016, the CBRC, the MIIT and the SAIC, jointly published the Guidelines on the Administration of Record-filings of Online Lending Information Intermediary Agencies, or the Record- filings Guidelines, to establish and improve the record-filing mechanisms for online lending intermediaries. According to the Record-filings Guidelines, a newly established online lending intermediary shall make the record-filings with the local financial regulatory authority after obtaining the business license; while with respect to any online lending intermediary which is established and begins to conduct the business prior to the publication of this Record-filings Guidelines, the local financial regulatory authority shall, pursuant to relevant arrangement of specific rectification work for risks in online peer-to-peer lending, accept the application for record-filings submitted by a qualified online lending intermediary, or any online lending intermediary which has completed the rectification confirmed by relevant authorities.
On February 22, 2017, the CBRC released the Guidelines to Regulate Funds Custodian for online lending intermediaries, or the Custodian Guidelines. The Custodian Guidelines define depositories as commercial banks that provide online lending fund custodian services, and stipulate that the depositories shall not engage in offering any guarantees, including: (i) offering guarantees for lending transaction activities conducted by online lending intermediaries, or undertaking any liabilities for breach of contract related to such activities; and (ii) offering guarantees to lenders, guaranteeing principal and dividend payments or bearing the risks associated with fund lending operations for lenders.
On April 18, 2017, the Online Lending Rectification Office issued the Notice on the Performance of Check and Rectification of Cash Loan Business Activities and a supplementary notice, or the Notice on Cash Loan. The Notice on Cash Loan requires the local branches of the Online Lending Rectification Office to conduct a comprehensive review and inspection of the cash loan business of online lending platforms and require such platforms to implement necessary improvements and remediation within a specific period to comply with the relevant requirements under the applicable laws and regulations. The Notice on Cash Loan focuses on preventing malicious fraudulent activities, loans that are offered at excessive interest rates and violence in the loan collection processes in the cash loan business operation of online lending platforms. The Online Lending Rectification Office also issued a list of cash loan business activities that are to be examined.
On August 23, 2017, the General Office of the CBRC released the Guidelines on Information Disclosure of Business Activities of Online Lending Information Intermediaries, or the Information Disclosure Guidelines. Consistent with the Interim Measures, the Information Disclosure Guidelines emphasize the requirement of information disclosure by an online lending intermediary and further, detail the frequency and scope of such information disclosure. Any violation of the Information Disclosure Guidelines by an online lending intermediary may subject the online lending intermediary to certain penalties under Interim Measures. In addition, the Information Disclosure Guidelines require online lending intermediaries that do not fully comply with the Information Disclosure Guidelines in conducting their business to rectify the relevant activities within six months after the release of the Information Disclosure Guidelines.
On December 1, 2017, the Internet Finance Rectification Office and the Online Lending Rectification Office jointly issued the Notice on Regulating and Rectifying “Cash Loan” Business, or the Circular 141, outlining general requirements on the “cash loan” business conducted by network microcredit companies, banking financial institutions and online lending information intermediaries. The Circular 141 specifies the features of “cash loans” as not relying on consumption scenarios, with no specified use of loan proceeds, no qualification requirement on customers and unsecured etc. The Circular 141 sets forth several general requirements with respect to the “cash loan” business, including, without limitation: (i) no organizations or individuals may conduct the lending business without obtaining relevant approvals for the lending business; (ii) the aggregated borrowing costs of borrowers charged by institutions in the forms of interest and various fees should be annualized and subject to the limit on interest rate of private lending set forth in the Private Lending Judicial Interpretations issued by the Supreme People’s Court; (iii) all relevant institutions shall follow the “know-your-customer” principle and prudentially assess and determine the borrower’s eligibility, credit limit and cooling-off period, etc. Loans to any borrower without income sources are prohibited; and (iv) all relevant institutions shall enhance the internal risk control and prudentially use the “data-driven” risk management model. In additions, the Circular 141 emphasizes several requirements on the online lending information intermediaries. For instance, such intermediaries are prohibited from facilitating any loans to students or other persons without repayment source or repayment capacity, or loans with no designated use of proceeds. Also, such intermediaries are not permitted to deduct interest, handling fee, management fee or deposit from the principal of loans provided to the borrowers in advance. Any violation of the Circular 141 may result in penalties, including but not limited to suspension of operation, orders to make rectification, condemnation, disapproval of recordation, revocation of license, order to cease business operation, and criminal liabilities.
On December 8, 2017, the Office of the Leading Group for the Special Campaign against Peer-to-peer Lending Risks released the Notice on The Improvement and Acceptance of the Peer-to-Peer Online Lending Risk, or Circular 57. Circular 57 requires the relevant local financial regulator, local CBRC, local branch of the People’s Bank, local public security, local communication administrative department and local AIC to jointly inspect and accept whether an internet lending information intermediary or peer-to-peer lending company, or P2P company, complies with the Interim Measures. A P2P company can only file records, or P2P Filing, with the local financial regulator after receiving acceptance certificate or document issued jointly by the local financial regulator and local CBRC. Normally, the P2P Filing should be completed before April 2018 according to the Circular 57. Circular 57 forbids several credit assignment models, including: (i) providing asset securitization services or transfer creditor’s rights in form of packaged assets, securitized assets, trust assets or fund shares; (ii) certain credit transfer from related individual party of the P2P company to the lender on the platform; and (iii) using credit right from the peer-to-peer lending platform as a pledge to borrow money from other lenders. In accordance with Circular 57, online lending marketplaces shall optimize their business portfolios continuously and manage the scale of their businesses. Marketplaces that have received rectification notices shall ensure steady decrease of the balance of non-compliant business on these marketplaces and shall not engage in any new non-compliant operations.
There are also certain rules, laws and regulations relevant or applicable to the internet financing service industry, including the PRC Contract Law, the General Principles of the Civil Law of the PRC, and related judicial interpretations promulgated by the Supreme People’s Court.
Regulations on Intellectual Property Rights
China has implemented legislation governing intellectual property rights, including trademarks, patents and copyrights. China is a signatory to the major international conventions on intellectual property rights and became a member of the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights upon its accession to the World Trade Organization in December 2001.
The standing committee of the National People’s Congress adopted the Patent Law in 1984 and was subsequently amended in 1992, 2000, 2008 and 2020. The state Council promulgated Implementation Regulation for the Paten Law in 2001, which was amended in 2010. To be patentable, invention or utility models must meet three conditions: novelty, inventiveness and practical applicability. A patent is valid for a term of twenty years in the case of an invention and a term of ten years in the case of utility models and designs. A third-party user must obtain consent or a proper license from the patent owner to use the patent. Otherwise, such use constitutes an infringement of patent rights.
The National People’s Congress adopted the Copyright Law in 1990 and amended in 2001, 2010 and 2020. The Copyright Law extends copyright protection to internet activities, products disseminated over the internet and software products. In addition, there is a voluntary registration system administered by the China Copyright Protection Center. The amended Copyright Law also requires registration of a copyright pledge.
In China, holders of computer software copyrights enjoy protections under the Copyright Law. Various regulations relating to the protection of software copyrights in China have promulgated, including Copyright Law of the PRC which was promulgated in 1990 and amended in 2001 and February 2010 and the Regulation for the Implementation of the Copyright Law of the PRC which came into effect in September 2002 and was amended in January 2011 and further amended in January 2013. Additionally, the Measures for Administrative Protection of Internet Copyright which was jointly issued by National Copyright Administration of the PRC and the MIIT in April 2005. Under these regulations, computer software that is independently developed and exists in a physical form is protected, and software copyright owners may license or transfer their software copyrights to others. Registration of software copyrights, exclusive licensing and transfer contracts with the Copyright Protection Center of China or its local branches is encouraged. Such registration is not mandatory under the PRC law, but can enhance the protections available to the registered copyrights holders. In 2002, in order to further implement the Computer Software Protection Regulations promulgated by the State Council on December 20, 2001, as amended in 2013, the National Copyright Administration of the PRC issued the Computer Software Copyright Registration Procedures, which apply to software copyright registration, license contract registration and transfer contract registration. In compliance with, and in order to take advantage of, the above rules, we had registered 14 computer software copyrights as of December 31, 2020.
The PRC Trademark Law was adopted in 1982 and was amended in 1993, 2001, 2013 and 2019. The Trademark Office under the SAIC handles trademark registrations and grants a term of 10 years for registered trademarks and another 10 years if requested upon expiry of the first or any renewed ten-year term. Trademark license agreements must be filed with the Trademark Office for record. We registered our trademark “开心汽车” in class 35, which is crucial to our business.
In 2002, the CNNIC issued the Implementing Rules for Domain Name Registration and revised it in 2009 and 2012 (abolished on June 18, 2019), setting forth detailed rules for the registration of domain names. On August 24, 2017, the MIIT, promulgated the Administrative Measures for Internet Domain Names, or Internet Domain Name Measures. The Internet Name Measures regulate the registration of domain names, such as the first-tier domain name “.cn”. In June 2019, the CNNIC issued the new version of Rules of First-tier Domain Name Dispute Resolution and the former version issued in 2014 was abolished, pursuant to which the CNNIC can authorize a domain name dispute resolution institution to resolve disputes. We have registered domain names including www.kaixin.com.
Regulations on Anti-unfair Competition
Under the Anti-unfair Competition Law, effective in 1993 and revised in 2017 and 2019, a business operator is prohibited from carrying out acts intending to cause confusion, which would mislead others into thinking that its products belong to another party or that there is an association with another party, by:
using without permission, a mark that is identical with or similar to product names, packaging or decoration of others with a certain degree of influence;
using without permission, the name of an enterprise, a social organization or an individual with a certain degree of influence;
using without permission, the main element of a domain name, website name or webpage with a certain degree of influence; or
carrying out confusing acts that are sufficient to mislead others into thinking that a product belongs to another party or there is an affiliation with another party.
Regulations on Foreign Exchange
Under the Foreign Currency Administration Rules, which were revised in 2008, if documents certifying the purposes of the conversion of RMB into foreign currency are submitted to the relevant foreign exchange conversion bank, the RMB will be convertible for current account items, including the distribution of dividends, interest, royalty payments, trade and service-related foreign exchange transactions. Conversion of RMB for capital account items, such as direct investment, loans, securities investment and repatriation of investment, however, is subject to the approval of SAFE or its local counterpart.
Under the Administration Rules for the Settlement, Sale and Payment of Foreign Exchange, which were promulgated in 1996, foreign-invested enterprises may only buy, sell and/or remit foreign currencies at banks authorized to conduct foreign exchange business after providing valid commercial documents and, in the case of capital account item transactions, obtaining approval from SAFE or its local counterpart. Capital investments by PRC entities outside of China, after obtaining the required approvals of the relevant approval authorities, such as the Ministry of Commerce and the National Development and Reform Commission or their local counterparts, are also required to register with SAFE or its local counterpart.
In February 2015, SAFE promulgated the Notice on Further Simplifying and Improving the Foreign Exchange Management Policies for Direct Investment, or the SAFE Circular 13, which took effect on June 1, 2015. SAFE Circular 13 delegates the power to enforce the foreign exchange registration in connection with inbound and outbound direct investments under relevant SAFE rules from local branches of SAFE to banks, thereby further simplifying the foreign exchange registration procedures for inbound and outbound direct investments.
In March 2015, SAFE issued the Circular on Reform of the Administrative Rules of the Payment and Settlement of Foreign Exchange Capital of Foreign-Invested Enterprises, or SAFE Circular 19, which became effective on June 1, 2015. In June 2016, the SAFE issued the Circular of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange on Reforming and Regulating Policies on the Control over Foreign Exchange Settlement of Capital Accounts, or SAFE Circular 16, which revised some provisions of SAFE Circular 19. According to SAFE Circular 19 and SAFE Circular 16, the flow and use of the Renminbi capital converted from registered capital denominated in foreign currency of a foreign-invested company is regulated such that Renminbi capital may not be used for business beyond its business scope or to provide loans to persons other than the foreign-invested company’s affiliates unless otherwise permitted under its business scope. Violations of SAFE Circular 19 or SAFE Circular 16 could result in administrative penalties. Pursuant to SAFE Circular 19 and SAFE Circular 16, foreign-invested enterprises may either continue to follow the current payment-based foreign currency settlement system or choose to follow the “conversion-at-will” system for foreign currency settlement. Where a foreign-invested enterprise follows the conversion-at-will system for foreign currency settlement, it may convert part or all of the amount of the foreign currency in its capital account into Renminbi at any time. The converted Renminbi will be kept in a designated account labeled as settled but pending payment, and if the foreign-invested enterprise needs to make payment from such designated account, it still needs to go through the review process with its bank and provide necessary supporting documents. SAFE Circular 19 and SAFE Circular 16, therefore, has substantially lifted the restrictions on the usage by a foreign-invested enterprise of its Renminbi registered capital converted from foreign currencies. According to SAFE Circular 19 and SAFE Circular 16, such Renminbi capital may be used at the discretion of the foreign-invested enterprise and SAFE will eliminate the prior approval requirement and only examine the authenticity of the declared usage afterwards. Nevertheless, foreign-invested enterprises like our PRC subsidiaries are still not allowed to extend intercompany loans to its VIEs. In addition, as SAFE Circular 19 and SAFE Circular 16 was promulgated recently, there remain substantial uncertainties with respect to the interpretation and implementation of this circular by relevant authorities.
Moreover, on January 26, 2017, the SAFE promulgated the Circular of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange on Further Advancing the Reform of Foreign Exchange Administration and Improving Examination of Authenticity and Compliance, or SAFE Circular 3. SAFE Circular 3 stipulates several control measures with respect to the outbound remittance of any profit from domestic entities to offshore entities, including provisions that (i) under the principle of genuine transaction, banks should review board resolutions, the original version of tax filing records and audited financial statements before wiring the foreign exchange profit distribution of a foreign-invested enterprise exceeding US$50,000; and (ii) domestic entities should hold income to make up previous years’ losses before remitting the profits to offshore entities. Moreover, pursuant to SAFE Circular 3, verification on the genuineness and compliance of the foreign direct investments in domestic entities has also been tightened.
In utilizing funds that we hold offshore, as an offshore holding company with PRC subsidiaries, we may (i) make additional capital contributions to our PRC subsidiaries; (ii) establish new PRC subsidiaries and make capital contributions to these new PRC subsidiaries; (iii) make loans to our PRC subsidiaries or consolidated affiliated entities; or (iv) acquire offshore entities with business operations in China during offshore transactions. However, most of these acts are subject to the PRC regulations and approvals. For example:
capital contributions to our PRC subsidiaries, whether existing or newly established ones, must be approved by the Ministry of Commerce or its local counterparts;
loans by us to our PRC subsidiaries, each of which is a foreign-invested enterprise, to finance their activities cannot exceed the statutory limits and must be registered with SAFE or its local branches; and
loans by us to our consolidated affiliated entities, which are domestic PRC entities, must be approved by the National Development and Reform Commission and must also be registered with SAFE or its local branches.
Regulations on Dividend Distribution
Wholly foreign-owned enterprises in the PRC may pay dividends only out of their accumulated profits as determined in accordance with the PRC accounting standards and regulations. The principal regulations governing dividend distributions of wholly foreign-owned enterprises include the PRC Company Law promulgated in 2005, as amended in 2013 and 2018, and the Foreign Investment Law and the Implementation of the Foreign Investment Law promulgated in 2019. Under these regulations, foreign investors can freely remit into or out of PRC, in Renminbi or any other foreign currency, their capital contributions, profits, capital gains, income from asset disposal, intellectual property royalties, lawfully acquired compensation, indemnity or liquidation income and so on generated within the territory of PRC.
In addition, according to the PRC Company Law, these wholly foreign-owned enterprises are required to set aside at least 10% of their respective accumulated profits each year, if any, to fund certain reserve funds, until the aggregate amount of such fund reaches 50% of its registered capital.
Regulations on Offshore Investment by PRC Residents
In July 2014, SAFE promulgated the Notice on Relevant Issues Concerning Foreign Exchange Control of Domestic Residents’ Overseas Investment and Financing and Roundtrip Investment through Offshore Special Purpose Vehicles, or SAFE Circular 37, which replaced the former Notice on Relevant Issues Concerning Foreign Exchange Administration for PRC Residents to Engage in Financing and Inbound Investment via Overseas Special Purpose Vehicles, or SAFE Circular 75, promulgated by SAFE in 2005.
SAFE Circular 37 requires PRC residents to register with local branches of SAFE in connection with their direct establishment or indirect control of an offshore entity, for the purpose of overseas investment and financing, with such PRC residents’ legally owned assets or equity interests in domestic enterprises or offshore assets or interests, which is referred to in SAFE Circular 37 as a “special purpose vehicle.” SAFE Circular 37 further requires amendment to the registration in the event of any significant changes with respect to the special purpose vehicle, such as an increase or decrease of capital contributed by PRC residents, share transfer or exchange, merger, division or other material events. In the event that a PRC resident holding interests in a special purpose vehicle fails to complete the required SAFE registration, the PRC subsidiaries of that special purpose vehicle may be prohibited from making profit distributions to the offshore parent company and from carrying out subsequent cross-border foreign exchange activities, and the special purpose vehicle may be restricted in its ability to contribute additional capital into its PRC subsidiaries. Furthermore, failure to comply with the various SAFE registration requirements described above could result in liabilities under the PRC law for evasion of foreign exchange controls.
Regulations on Employee Stock Options Plans
In 2007, SAFE issued implementing rules for the Administrative Measures of Foreign Exchange Matters for Individuals, which, among other things, specified approval requirements for certain capital account transactions, such as a PRC citizen’s participation in employee stock ownership plans or share option plans of an overseas publicly listed company, and it was further amended on May 29, 2016. In 2012, SAFE promulgated the Notice on the Administration of Foreign Exchange Matters for Domestic Individuals Participating in the Stock Incentive Plans of Overseas Listed Companies, or the Stock Option Notice, which simplifies the requirements and procedures for the registration of stock incentive plan participants, especially in respect of the required application documents and the absence of strict requirements on offshore and onshore custodian banks.
Under these rules, for PRC resident individuals who participate in stock incentive plans of overseas publicly listed companies, which includes employee stock ownership plans, stock option plans and other incentive plans permitted by the relevant laws and regulations, a PRC domestic qualified agent or the PRC subsidiary of such overseas listed company must, among other things, file on behalf of such resident an application with SAFE or its local counterpart to obtain approval for an annual allowance with respect to the purchase of foreign exchange in connection with the stock holding or share option exercises, as PRC residents may not directly use overseas funds to purchase shares or exercise share options. In addition, within three months after any substantial changes to any such stock incentive plan, including any changes due to a merger, acquisition or changes to the domestic or overseas custodian agent, the domestic agent must update the registration with SAFE.
Under the Foreign Currency Administration Rules, as amended in 2008, the foreign exchange proceeds of domestic entities and individuals can be remitted into China or deposited abroad, subject to the terms and conditions to be issued by SAFE. However, the implementing rules in respect of depositing the foreign exchange proceeds abroad have not been issued by SAFE. The foreign exchange proceeds from the sales of shares can be converted into RMB or transferred to such individuals’ foreign exchange savings account after the proceeds have been remitted to the special foreign exchange account which opened at the PRC domestic bank. If share options are exercised in a cashless exercise, the PRC domestic individuals are required to remit the proceeds to special foreign exchange accounts.
In addition, the State Administration of Taxation, or SAT, has issued circulars concerning employee share options such as the Notice on Issues Concerning the Individual Income Tax on Equity Incentives issued in 2009 and Notice on Issue of Levying Individual Income Taxes on Incomes from Individual Stock Options promulgated in 2005. Under these circulars, our employees working in China who exercise share options will be subject to PRC individual income tax. Our PRC subsidiaries have obligations to file documents related to employee share options with the relevant tax authorities and withhold the individual income taxes of employees who exercise their share options.
Regulations on Taxation
Enterprise Income Tax
The PRC Enterprise Income Tax Law, which was promulgated on March 16, 2007 and took effect on January 1, 2008, and further amended on February 24, 2017 and December 29, 2018, imposes a uniform enterprise income tax rate of 25% on all the PRC resident enterprises, including foreign-invested enterprises, unless they qualify for certain exceptions. The enterprise income tax is calculated based on the PRC resident enterprise’s global income as determined under PRC tax laws and accounting standards. If a non-resident enterprise sets up an organization or establishment in the PRC, it will be subject to enterprise income tax for the income derived from such organization or establishment in the PRC and for our ordinary shares the income derived from outside the PRC but with an actual connection with such organization or establishment in the PRC.
The PRC Enterprise Income Tax Law and its implementation rules, which were promulgated on December 6, 2007 and took effect on January 1, 2008 and was revised on April 23, 2019, permit certain “high and new technology enterprises strongly supported by the state” that independently own core intellectual property and meet statutory criteria, to enjoy a reduced 15% enterprise income tax rate. On January 29, 2016, the SAT, the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Ministry of Finance jointly issued the Administrative Rules for the Certification of High and New Technology Enterprises specifying the criteria and procedures for the certification of High and New Technology Enterprises.
The Provisional Regulations of the PRC on Value-added Tax, which were promulgated by the State Council on December 13, 1993 and came into effect on January 1, 1994, were most recently amended on November 19, 2017. According to the Value-added Tax Law, or the VAT Law, all enterprises and individuals engaged in the sale of goods, the provision of processing, repair and replacement services, sales of services, intangible assets, real property and the importation of goods within the territory of the PRC are the taxpayers of value-added tax, or VAT. The VAT tax rates generally applicable are simplified as 17%, 11%, 6% and 0%, and the VAT tax rate applicable to the small-scale taxpayers is 3%. Starting from May 1, 2018, the VAT tax rates had been reduced to 16%, 10%, 6% and 0%. Starting from April 1, 2019, the VAT tax rates have been further reduced to 13%, 9%, 6% and 0%.
As of the date of this annual report, our PRC subsidiaries and consolidated affiliated entities are generally subject to 6% or 13% VAT rate.
Dividend Withholding Tax
Pursuant to the EIT Law and its implementation rules, dividends generated after January 1, 2008 and payable by a foreign-invested enterprise in China to its foreign enterprise investors are subject to a 10% withholding tax, unless any such foreign investor’s jurisdiction of incorporation has a tax treaty with China that provides for a different withholding arrangement. Under the Arrangement Between the PRC and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region on the Avoidance of Double Taxation and Prevention of Fiscal Evasion with Respect to Taxes on Income and Capital, or the China-HK Taxation Arrangement, which became effective on August 21, 2006, income tax on dividends payable to a company resident in Hong Kong that holds more than a 25% equity interest in a PRC resident enterprise may be reduced to a rate of 5%. According to the Announcement of the State Administration of Taxation on Issues Relating to “Beneficial Owner” in Tax Treaties, which were promulgated by the SAT on February 3, 2018 and came into effect on April 1, 2018, the 5% tax rate does not automatically apply as approvals from competent local tax authorities are required before an enterprise can enjoy the relevant tax treatments relating to dividends under the relevant taxation treaties. In addition, according to a tax circular issued by SAT in February 2009, if the main purpose of an offshore arrangement is to obtain a preferential tax treatment, the PRC tax authorities have the discretion to adjust the preferential tax rate enjoyed by the relevant offshore entity. Although Shanghai Auto is currently wholly owned by Jet Sound Hong Kong Company Limited, there can be no assurance that we will be able to enjoy the preferential withholding tax rate of 5% under the China-HK Taxation Arrangement.
Labor Laws and Social Insurance
Pursuant to the PRC Labor Law and the PRC Labor Contract Law, employers must execute written labor contracts with full-time employees. All employers must compensate their employees with wages equal to at least the local minimum wage standards. All employers are required to establish a system for labor safety and sanitation, strictly abide by state rules and standards and provide employees with workplace safety trainings. In addition, employers in China are obliged to provide employees with welfare schemes covering pension insurance, unemployment insurance, maternity insurance, work-related injury insurance, medical insurance and housing funds. Violations of the PRC Labor Contract Law and the PRC Labor Law may result in the imposition of fines and other administrative liabilities. Criminal liabilities may arise for serious violations. To comply with these laws and regulations, we have entered into labor contracts with all of our full-time employees and provide them with the proper welfare and employment benefits as required by the PRC laws and regulations.
Regulations on Concentration in Merger and Acquisition Transactions
In August 2006, six PRC regulatory agencies jointly adopted the Regulations on Mergers and Acquisitions of Domestic Enterprises by Foreign Investors, or the M&A Rules, which was amended in 2009. The M&A Rule established additional procedures and requirements that could make merger and acquisition activities by foreign investors more time-consuming and complex. These rules require, among other things, that the Ministry of Commerce be notified in advance of any change-of-control transaction in which a foreign investor will take control of a PRC domestic enterprise or a foreign company with substantial PRC operations, if certain thresholds under the Provisions on Thresholds for Prior Notification of Concentrations of Undertakings issued by the State Council in 2008 and amended on September 18, 2018 are triggered.
Regulations on Overseas Direct Investment
In September 2014, MOFCOM promulgated the Measures for the Administration of Overseas Investment, or the Overseas Investment Measures. The Overseas Investment Measures define “overseas investment” as activities that an PRC enterprise obtains any ownership, right of control, right of business management, or other relevant rights and interests by formation, merger or any other means. Pursuant to the Overseas Investment Measures, the overseas investment shall make record-filing with the local branch of MOFCOM via the online filing system if it is not involved any sensitive country or region, or any industry.
In December 2017, the NDRC adopted the Administrative Measures for Enterprises’ Overseas Investment, or the Overseas Investment Rules, which became effective in March 2018. The Overseas Investment Rules provide that, for local enterprises (enterprises that are not managed by the state government), if the amount of investment made by the Chinese investors is less than US$300 million, and the target project is non-sensitive, then the overseas investment project will require online filing with the local branch of the NDRC where the enterprise itself is registered. And overseas investment as stipulated in the Overseas Investment Rules shall mean activities where an PRC enterprise, directly or through an overseas enterprise controlled by it, acquires any ownership, right of control, right of business management, or other relevant rights and interests overseas, by contributing assets or rights and interests, providing financing and/or guarantees, or any other means.
The following diagram illustrates our corporate structure as of the date of this annual report.
Xiaoling Zhao and Xiaolei Gu hold 0.17% and 99.83% of the equity interests in Shanghai Jieying, respectively.
Jing Yang and James Jian Liu hold 99% and 1% of the equity interests in Qianxiang Changda, respectively.
Upon consummation of the Haitaoche Acquisition, Haitaoche will become our wholly-owned subsidiary.
Contractual Agreements with Our VIEs and Their Shareholders
Current PRC laws and regulations impose certain restrictions or prohibitions on foreign ownership of companies that engage in value-added telecommunication services, and certain other businesses. We are a company registered in the Cayman Islands, and our PRC subsidiaries, are considered foreign-invested enterprises. To comply with the PRC laws and regulations, we primarily conduct our business in China through our VIEs, Shanghai Jieying and Qianxiang Changda, and their subsidiaries, based on a series of contractual arrangements by and among Shanghai Auto, our VIEs and their shareholders. Through these contractual arrangements, we exert control over our VIEs and consolidate their operating results in our financial statements under U.S. GAAP. The following is a summary of the contractual arrangements that provide us with effective control over our VIEs and enable us to receive substantially all of the economic benefits from their operations.
Agreements that Give Us Effective Control over the VIEs
Shanghai Auto entered into loan agreements with each shareholder of the VIEs in 2017. Pursuant to these loan agreements, Shanghai Auto has granted an interest-free loan to each VIE shareholder, which may only be used for the purpose of a capital contribution to the VIEs. The loans can only be repaid with the proceeds derived from the sale of all of the equity interests in the VIEs to Shanghai Auto or its designated representatives. The term of each loan is 10 years from the actual drawing down of the loan by the relevant VIE shareholder, and will be automatically extended for another 10 years unless a written notice to the contrary is given by Shanghai Auto to the VIE shareholder three months prior to the expiration of the loan. The VIE shareholders undertake, among other things, not to transfer any of their respective equity interests in the VIEs to any third part.
Equity Option Agreement
Shanghai Auto entered into equity option agreements with each shareholder of the VIEs in 2017. Pursuant to these equity option agreements, each VIE shareholder has granted Shanghai Auto an option to acquire all of his or her equity interests in the VIEs at the price equivalent to the lowest price then permitted under PRC law, with Shanghai Auto making payment of such price by cancelling all or an equivalent portion of the loan under the applicable loan agreement with such VIE shareholder. Shanghai Auto may, at its sole discretion, at any time exercise the option granted by the VIE shareholder. Moreover, Shanghai Auto may transfer such option to any third party. The VIE shareholders may not, among other obligations, transfer, donate, pledge or otherwise dispose of their equity interests in any way, increase or decrease the registered capital of the VIEs, or enter into any material contracts except in the ordinary course of business unless otherwise expressly agreed to by Shanghai Auto. The equity option agreements will remain in effect until all equity interests have been acquired by Shanghai Auto directly or through its designated representative or Shanghai Auto terminates the agreements unilaterally with 30days prior written notice.
Power of Attorney
Each shareholder of the VIEs signed a power of attorney in 2017 pursuant to which he or she irrevocably authorizes Shanghai Auto or any person designated by Shanghai Auto to vote on such VIE shareholder’s behalf at the shareholders’ meetings of the VIEs and exercise full voting rights as a VIE shareholder, including but not limited to, the right to propose a shareholders’ meeting, to accept any notification about the holding of such meeting, to attend the shareholders’ meeting and exercise full voting rights, and to sell or transfer any portion of the VIE shareholder’s equity interests in the VIEs.
Business Operation Agreement
Shanghai Auto entered into business operation agreements with the VIEs and their shareholders in 2017, pursuant to which (1) each VIE shall not enter into any transactions which may materially affect such VIE’s assets, obligations, rights and operations; (2) each VIE and its shareholders shall accept and strictly execute the proposals provided by Shanghai Auto in respect of the employment and dismissal of such VIE’s employees and the daily business management and financial management of such VIE; and (3) each VIE and its shareholders shall only appoint individuals designated by Shanghai Auto as the executive director or director of the board of directors. Each of the VIE shareholders must sign powers of attorney assigning their powers and rights to Shanghai Auto. The term of each business operation agreement is 10 years and will be extended automatically for another 10 years except where Shanghai Auto provides prior written notice otherwise.
Equity Pledge Agreement
Shanghai Auto entered into equity pledge agreements with each shareholder of the VIEs in 2017. Pursuant to these equity pledge agreements, the VIE shareholders have pledged all of their equity interests in the VIEs as priority security interest in favor of Shanghai Auto to guarantee VIEs and their shareholders’ performance of their obligations under, where applicable, (i) the loan agreements; (ii) the exclusive technology support and technology services agreements; (iii) the intellectual property right license agreement; and (iv) the equity option agreements. Shanghai Auto is entitled to exercise its right to dispose of the VIE shareholders’ pledged interests in the equity of the VIEs and has priority in receiving payment by the application of proceeds from the auction or sale of such pledged interests, in the event that any breach or default event under the equity pledge agreements occurs. Each equity pledge agreement will remain in full force and remain effective until the earlier of (1) the date on which all debts secured have been fully paid; (2) the date on which Shanghai Auto exercises its right under the equity pledge agreement; or (3) the relevant VIE shareholder transfers all of his or her equity interests in the applicable VIE to a third party according to the equity option agreement.
Agreements that Enable Us to Receive Substantially All of the Economic Benefits from the VIEs
Exclusive Technology Support and Technology Services Agreement
Shanghai Auto entered into exclusive technology support and technology services agreements with the VIEs in 2017, pursuant to which Shanghai Auto provides exclusive technology support and technology services to the VIEs. In exchange, the VIEs pay service fees to Shanghai Auto based on the specific fee rate stipulated by Shanghai Auto, and Shanghai Auto has the right to adjust the specific fee rate based on the quantity, scope and nature, among other factors, of the services provided by it to the VIEs at any time. During the term of these agreements, Shanghai Auto has the right to waive the fee under any bill at its sole discretion. Shanghai Auto will exclusively own any intellectual property arising from the performance of these agreements. The term of each exclusive technology support and technology services agreement is 10 years.
Intellectual Property Right License Agreement
Shanghai Auto entered into intellectual property license agreements with our VIEs in 2017, pursuant to which Shanghai Auto grants to the VIEs non-exclusive licenses to use certain intellectual property rights as listed in these agreements during the VIEs’ normal business operations in the PRC. The VIEs pay Shanghai Auto license fees on a monthly basis. The parties have made record filings of copies of these agreements to the relevant authorities subject to the requirements of the PRC law. The term of each intellectual property license agreement is five years and will be automatically extended for an additional one year unless either party provides the other party with prior written notice of termination.
In the opinion of Commerce & Finance Law Offices, our PRC legal counsel, based on its understanding of the relevant PRC laws and regulations currently in effect, is of the opinion that each of the Contractual Agreements among Shanghai Auto, our VIEs and their respective shareholders is, and taken as a whole are, (i) valid and legally binding on each party thereto, and (ii) enforceable in accordance with the terms thereof, subject as to enforceability to applicable bankruptcy, insolvency, moratorium, reorganization and similar laws affecting creditors’ rights generally, the discretion of relevant Government Agencies in exercising their authority in connection with the interpretation and implementation thereof and the application of relevant PRC Laws and policies thereto, and to general equity principles, except that the pledges on the VIEs’ equity interests would not be deemed validly created until they are registered with the competent administration of industry and commerce.
However, our PRC legal counsel has also advised that there are substantial uncertainties regarding the interpretation and application of current and future PRC laws, rules and regulations. Accordingly, the PRC regulatory authorities may in the future take a view that is contrary to the opinion of our PRC legal counsel. We have been further advised by our PRC legal counsel that if the PRC government finds that the agreements that establish the structure for operating our internet related value-added business do not comply with PRC government restrictions on foreign investment in the aforesaid business which we engage in, we could be subject to severe penalties including being prohibited from continuing operations. See “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors—Risks Related to Our Corporate Structure” and “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors—Risks Related to Doing Business in China—Uncertainties with respect to the PRC legal system could adversely affect us.”
Property, plants and equipment.
Our principal executive offices are located in Beijing China, where we lease approximately 400 square meters of office space as of December 31, 2020. Our Dealership Outlets lease operating spaces in various Chinese cities. We lease our premises under non-cancelable operating lease agreements.
Some of the lessors of our leased premises in China do not have valid title to such premises or proper authorization from the title owner to sublease such premises. For further details, see “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors—Risks Related to Our Business and Industry—We face certain risks relating to the real properties that we lease.”
Our servers are primarily hosted at internet data centers owned by major domestic internet data center providers. The hosting services agreements typically have terms of one year.
We believes that we will be able to obtain adequate facilities, principally through leasing, to accommodate our future expansion plans.
ITEM 4A. UNRESOLVED STAFF COMMENTS
ITEM 5. OPERATING AND FINANCIAL REVIEW AND PROSPECTS
We are a leading premium used auto dealership group in China. As of December 31, 2020, we had 14 Dealerships covering 14 cities in 12 provinces in China. On average, our Dealership operators have over ten years of experiences in the used car industry. We provide used car buyers in China with access to a wide selection of used vehicles across our network of Dealerships, with a focus on premium brands, such as Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Land Rover and Porsche. In addition to auto sales, for the convenience of our customers, we also provide financing channels to customers and other in-network dealers through our partnerships with financial institutions.
We launched our first Dealership market in mid-2017, and from December 31, 2018 to December 31, 2020, we sourced, marketed and sold approximately 14,116 used vehicles to customers across China. We sold approximately 7,438, 6,005 and 673 vehicles in 2018, 2019 and 2020, respectively.
Key Factors Affecting Our Results of Operations
We believe that our results of operations are significantly affected by the following key factors.
Demand for Premium Passenger Vehicles in China
We generate a substantial majority of our revenues from the sales of premium passenger vehicles and the market demand for such passenger vehicles in China directly affects our revenues. Demand for premium passenger vehicles is affected by a variety of factors, including:
macro-economic conditions in China, level of urbanization and household income;
continued increase in the number of affluent individuals and consumer sentiment towards premium automobiles;
continued improvement of road networks and infrastructure; and
PRC laws and regulations with regard to passenger vehicles.
Integration of Our Dealerships
We began to acquire majority control of used car dealers across China in the second half of 2017. We rely on our Dealerships to conduct significant aspects of our business. As of December 31, 2020, we had 14 Dealerships. Our Dealerships and their employees directly interact with the consumers, other dealerships and other platform participants, and their performance directly impact our results of operations and financial condition. In addition, expansion of our network of Dealerships may affect our results of operations in the form of startup costs, acquisitions of new Dealership assets or capital injections.
Customer Engagement and Branding
We engage car buyers primarily through our network of Dealerships, our website and mobile apps, and advertising on third-party platforms. Our ability to expand our customer base depends on the scale and performance of the Dealerships as well as our ability to expand the Dealership network. We also collaborate with leading online automotive advertising platforms to tap into their large user bases. Our success in such collaboration will affect our ability to broaden our prospective car buyer base through online channels in a cost-efficient manner.
Our growth depends on our ability to strengthen our brand through word of mouth and advertisements. The goal of these endeavors is to increase the number of visitors to our website, mobile apps and Dealership Outlets and increase the likelihood that visitors will purchase vehicles from us. In addition, our performance will be enhanced by providing a superior customer experience, which drives our ability to generate customer referrals and repeat sales.
We believe that our operational model, which combines both online and offline channels, is superior to either online-only or offline-only models and differentiates us from our competitors. Our ability to strengthen our market position as a leading premium used auto dealership group and continue to meet the needs of our customers will continue to affect our results of operations.
Our business is also subject to trends specific to our i