In The Passenger Seat: Damian Sia, Founder of Motorist

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In our first episode of In The Passenger Seat, we speak to Damian Sia, founder and CEO of Motorist.

A car owner since 18-years-old, Damian definitely knows a thing or two about vehicle ownership in Singapore.

CEO by day, and chiongster’ by night, he has a few interesting driving stories to share. From getting trapped on a mountain to his colourful car history, let’s see what he has to say.

How many cars have you owned? Which was your first, and your favourite?

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I’ve owned eight cars in total. The first was a Honda Civic ESi when I was in Republic Poly. The other cars include a Toyota Vios, Kia Koup, Lexus RX300, Lexus IS250, Audi TT Roadster, Mercedes CLA 250, and my current Lexus NX300H. The Audi TT Roadster was my favourite because it was a convertible. It turned a lot of heads and was very liberating to drive. However, I had to make the switch after I became a dad.

What is your ultimate dream car?

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I’ve always wanted a Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder. I guess owning a fast sports car is like an unlockable achievement in life. When I was young, I’d always see the Gallardo on the front cover of auto magazines. The photos were always damn sexy and stylish. Because of that, I made it my personal goal to own one.

You’ve been driving for 15 years! What’s your most memorable drive so far?

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It was definitely my 2-week road trip in the US for my honeymoon. It was memorable because it was both my best and worst driving experience thus far. I’ll try to keep the story short:

My wife and I rented a car to drive in California. We drove from San Francisco to Los Angeles (LA) and back, stopping at Lake Tahoe for a few days. The drive from LA to Lake Tahoe was absolutely the best because of the scenery. We drove for hours through small towns, open fields, mountains and forested areas. It was hard to keep my eye on the road without admiring the view.

Now comes the worst part of the trip. It was snowing heavily when we arrived at Lake Tahoe. Because our rented car did not come with snow tyres, we had to install snow chains around the tyres in order to drive. To this day, installing snow chains in below freezing temperature is the single most difficult thing I have done in my life. I had no idea what I was doing and it took me a full hour to install them properly.

Removing them was also a huge pain. I think I accidentally cut the brake line while unhooking the chain because I could not use my brake shortly after. I had to pull over by the side of the road and call for a replacement vehicle. With no convenience stores, restaurants or inns anywhere near us, we waited in the car for 10 hours before our replacement car arrived. We then drove for another 5 hours back to LA. This will be a trip that I will never forget.

Any late night supper recommendations?

Nowadays, whenever I have the time, I’ll still go back to my favourite supper hotspot, Al-Azhar Eating Restaurant. I used to go for supper with my buddies there but it’s been quite awhile since I last went there. I love their Prata or Maggi Goreng with a nice glass of Teh Peng. Thinking about it now, I might go back soon!

Now that you have a baby, what things do you look for in a car?

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I always preferred fast cars like convertibles so that I can overtake people in style. But now, after having a kid, I prefer cars that are high off the ground and more spacious like SUVs. That's why I switched from a Mercedes CLA 250 to a Lexus NX300H. Fitting a child seat for the baby, and alighting and entering the car is so much easier now.

Zhengd your car before? What did you do and how much did you spend?

Pink Toyota Vios Sale

I only zheng'd my Honda Civic and the Toyota Vios. For the Civic, I upgraded the air filters, installed modified exhaust pipes and did some tuning to it. I also changed the bumper, added a spoiler and stuck fake meter gauges on my dashboard. For my Vios, I just decked it out in pink. It was a unique colour back then, and it never failed to turn heads. Overall, these modifications were a few thousand dollars in total. It was fun while it lasted but I grew out of it eventually.

What sort of driver do you hate the most? Have you done the same?

I have a burning hatred for road hoggers, especially those who hog the fast lane. What if someone needs to rush to the hospital or to a work meeting? Road hoggers will only prevent drivers from getting to their destination quickly.

As for myself, I will always switch lanes and let someone pass me if they are driving faster.

What milestone are you the most proud of for Motorist?

We are celebrating the company’s 5th anniversary this Friday! Although it’s a huge milestone for a homegrown startup, I’m content that Motorist has been able to provide tools and services to make vehicle ownership and driving much more convenient and simple.

Any advice for new drivers out there?

Always keep a good distance with the car in front of you because you can never anticipate when someone will jam their brakes. Another advice is never make assumptions when you're on the filter lane. Just because you see a car edging forward, it doesn’t mean that they are ready to drive off. The car could be moving forward and stopping to check a blind spot.

Follow Damian Sia on Instagram for more on his life in and out the automotive scene!

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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