Starting this month in China, customers can order a test-drive car out of a giant car vending machine 

A few months ago, we told you about the 150-foot tall supercar-vending machine in Singapore. Now, one of the world’s most powerful e-commerce retailers, Alibaba, has struck upon a similar idea.

Alibaba sells cars via its Tmall e-commerce platform. Starting this January, it has set up a cat-shaped car vending machine – one in Shanghai and the other in Nanjing. Unlike the Singapore model where you can actually buy the cars from the vending machines, these ones are instead loaned for a period of three days for a test drive.

These vending machines are called “Super Test-Drive Centres”. Going online and ordering a car isn’t necessarily as straightforward process as picking up a T-Shirt. With a car, you’d want to – and rightly so – schedule a test drive before you buy. These vending machines serve exactly that purpose. There are more than 100 models of cars and the participating brands include Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo.


Alibaba Tmall car vending machine

This is how it works. Take a picture of any car you fancy on the street. Upload it to Alibaba’s Taobao app which will then match it with the correct car. Select your car, enter your personal details and set up a pre-determined date and time to pick it up from the vending machine. When you visit the machine, there will be a device in the reception area which uses facial recognition to scan your face, identify you and then deliver your car from the multi-tiered parking structure. You get to keep it for three days and then return it to the machine that will scoop it back in.

Alibaba has worked in a few checks-and-balances to ensure that this new service isn’t misused. For example, to determine a customer’s trustworthiness and eligibility to avail of this service, they will need to have over 700 points on Zhima Credit, Alibaba’s own credit-scoring service, and also be an Alibaba Super Member. Customers can test drive each model just once and they can loan a maximum of five cars in the first two months of the introduction of the programme.

Alibaba has already become a major player in the car retail business in China. In 2016, 100 Maserati Levante SUVs were snapped up in 18 seconds on the Tmall shopping website. Last year, Alfa Romeo entered into an agreement with Tmall to sell its cars online. When they were offered up for sale on Tmall in March last year, 350 Alfa Romeos were sold in the first 33 seconds.

With this new car vending machine, Alibaba is shaking up the car retail industry. Finally, we might be able to do away with the unctuous salesman and the unnecessary hassle of haggling a price with middlemen on a fancy set of wheels. It’s about time.