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Fancy buying a supercar with Bitcoin?

Will the cryptocurrency be accepted by car dealers here?

Can nerdy early adopters now really purchase exotic cars using Bitcoin? ILLUSTRATION BY MARCO RIVERA

By now, you may have heard about Bitcoin. The digital currency was created by a presumed pseudonymous individual called Satoshi Nakamoto around 2008, and the Bitcoin network, which was launched a year later, has since grown to become the best-known peer-to-peer electronic cash system on the Internet. The topic of cryptocurrencies is making headlines on an almost-daily basis these days, thanks to the massive increase in the value of some digital assets in recent times.

Bitcoin has been a favored method of payment for certain elements of the criminal underworld in the past—most notably for the now-defunct Silk Road website—due to its quasi-anonymous nature. But it has also seen wider acceptance by traditional regulators, with countries such as Japan having already declared it legal tender. One bitcoin (or BTC) is worth over $5,900 (P303,000) at this writing, but while its rise to prominence has been fast and lucrative for anyone holding the currency, its real-life uses often seem limited.

Rich men who want to keep a low profile approve of this. INSTAGRAM POST BY LAMBORGHINI NEWPORT BEACH

But at least crypto coin collectors who also love fast cars can now rejoice: A Lamborghini dealer in Orange County, California, recently announced that customers can now pay for their purchase in Bitcoin, which means you can buy a brand-new Aventador for just 66.38 BTC, which at today’s exchange rate would be $393,695, the normal list price for the vehicle in the US. The dealership is using a company called Bitpay for this, an intermediary payment provider that allows payment for goods in BTC and then pays the dealer in whatever currency they prefer to be paid in—a common way for businesses to get into the cryptocurrency space without sending their accounts department to the ER with heart palpitations.

While $400,000 is certainly a steep price no matter what currency you convert it into, the fact that a premium car dealer is now willing to accept payments in a digital currency that didn’t even exist 10 years ago certainly is a sign of how times are changing. Bitcoin is also making waves in the Philippines, and there are encouraging signs that it could play a bigger role in everyday life here in the future. Some people’s preference for it is due mainly to its unique properties of being decentralized and very secure: No single entity (like a central bank) controls it, and transactions, as well as the creation of additional units of the currency, are secured using cryptography. It’s fair to say that Bitcoin is more secure and advanced than many traditional banking networks, and all you need to use it is a basic smartphone.

A Lamborghini dealer in Orange County, California, recently announced that customers can now pay for their purchase in Bitcoin

There is a good chance that a number of cars and other goods are already being bought with Bitcoin in the Philippines, albeit indirectly, thanks to local technology trailblazers like Satoshi Citadel Industries, a Makati-based company that has created a number of services and tools for Bitcoin. One of them allows OFWs to remit funds from abroad using BTC instead of long-established (fiat) currencies and transfer services, with the received funds then being paid out in either BTC or peso here. This type of application will only increase in use, and while the most exciting thing you can buy with Bitcoin in Makati right now might be a cup of coffee, it is reasonable to see a future where we will buy a lot more things, including cars, with cryptocurrency and think nothing of it.

In Japan, the Bic Camera chain of stores now accepts Bitcoin up to ¥100,000 (P45,000). PHOTO BY VERNON B. SARNE

Of course you don’t need to wait until your local car dealer puts up price tags in BTC. One of the beautiful things about cryptocurrencies is the fact that you can use them to transfer money between individuals, meaning there is literally nothing stopping you from selling your car and asking for BTC, or from offering BTC to a seller today. Sure, you might get bemused looks if you posted an advertisement for your 1996 Toyota Corolla on a local car website and priced it at 0.315575 BTC instead of P96,000, but that’s basically how people react to new things.

For the moment, take a minute and think about this: When Bitcoin first launched eight years ago, it was worth very little. So little, in fact, that many supporters gave it away for free in an effort to promote the idea. People who did buy the currency paid laughably trivial sums for it, and in 2009 one man by the name of Kristoffer Koch famously purchased 5,000 bitcoins for a princely total of $27.

The rapid increase in Bitcoin’s value since then means Koch bought himself the equivalent of 71 Lamborghini Aventadors for less than the cost of a family meal, assuming he still has his cache of bitcoins today. Can this type of thing happen again with Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies? Well, we live in an anything-is-possible era—reality TV star as US president, anyone?—in case you haven’t noticed.

Frank Schuengel

Frank is a German e-commerce executive who loves his wife, a Filipina, so much he decided to base himself in Manila. He has interesting thoughts on Philippine motoring.