We first heard about the extraordinary “car vending machine” at the end of last year. Now, Ford and Alibaba, who teamed up to design the system, have flipped the switch on the massive machine so that people can try it out for real.
It’s located in Guangzhou, China, and offers a range of vehicles for three-day test drives. The five-story contraption, which holds 42 vehicles in all, is essentially a Ford-branded garage with rotating platforms, similar in design to those commonly seen in Japanese cities and other countries in Asia.
You can begin the transaction via an app before turning up to collect the car from the vending machine, dubbed the “Super Test-drive Center.”
There’s no human interaction during the process. You simply browse the app for the car you’d like to take out for a spin — the guy in the video above opts for a Ford Mustang — and then take a selfie. This enables the vending machine’s facial recognition technology to confirm your booking, and presumably also gives the cops a decent image to work with should you fail to return the car.
When you arrive at the Super Test-drive Center, you’ll need to tap on the digital display so the machine can match your face with your car selection. No, the car doesn’t drop into a tray like a regular vending machine. That would be daft. And a little costly for Ford.
Instead, the machinery grinds into action, with your chosen vehicle brought down to ground level in just a few minutes. The system lets you test up to two cars consecutively, which ensures you don’t end up “test driving” Ford cars for life rather than making an actual purchase.
If you have a decent credit score — calculated according to previous Alipay transactions — you can try out the cars for free. Otherwise you’ll have to pay a fee, though exactly how much isn’t immediately clear.
Ford announced its partnership with Alibaba at the end of 2017. The three-year deal offers the American automaker a chance to expand its presence in the Chinese market through Alibaba-owned Tmall, the country’s largest online shopping mall. Alibaba said it’ll work with Ford to “leverage digital channels to identify new retail opportunities [and] redefine how consumers purchase and own vehicles.” An enormous great vending machine in the middle of town is certainly a start.
Ford’s recently announced “China 2025 Plan” aims to introduce more than 50 all-new vehicles by 2025, including 15 electric vehicles.