In China, there's now a giant car "vending machine" where you can pick up Ford cars to test drive them. Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group and Ford have been working together on concepts around mobility and redefining the ownership experience in China, the world's largest auto market, and this is a quirky product of that partnership.
The new vending machine, which Alibaba calls a "Super Test-Drive Center," opened in Guangzhou, China. It's a huge mechanical parking garage that doubles as a giant outdoor ad, with both the Ford insignia and the cat logo of Alibaba's Tmall platform displayed prominently. Alibaba says there are 100 Ford cars available to try until April 23. People can book a car with Alibaba's Taobao or Tmall shopping apps, snapping a selfie as they do so. To pick up the vehicle, perhaps an Explorer SUV or a Mustang, you have to use the selfie to verify your identity. Once that happens, the gears start turning on the giant, unmanned "vending machine," and your car is lowered to the ground.
Drivers get can keep the car for three days, and Alibaba says the price ranges from $16 to $31. "Alibaba Super Members," with a high ranking in the Alibaba-affiliated Sesame Credit rating system, ride for free. Sesame Credit ratings are calculated by a mysterious algorithm. According to Wired, the algorithm takes into consideration not only your credit history, but also what kinds of things you buy (diapers are good, since parents are supposedly responsible), your behaviors (huge amounts of video-game playing are a strike against you) and even who your friends are.
The auto "vending machine" is part of Alibaba's push toward what it calls "New Retail," blending online and offline experiences together. Ford hopes it will entice customers into showrooms. Dean Stoneley, VP-marketing at Ford Asia Pacific, reportedly said at a launch event: "It's about having them try Ford vehicles, and ultimately buying the vehicle at a Ford dealership."
The car vending machine idea isn't new. Online car dealer Carvana debuted its own automated car dispensary in 2015.