Giant vending machine for cars opens in China

China's online retail giant Alibaba has unveiled a huge vending machine for cars in partnership with Ford.

The "Super Test Drive Centre" in Guangzhou is offering Chinese drivers a three-day test drive to punters who choose their preferred vehicle from more than 100 stored in the vending machine.

Cars including the Explorer SUV, Mustang, Edge and Everest are available as Ford pushes its marketing in China to include the unusual offer.

"We are looking for ways to simplify customers' lives and give them the ultimate try-before-you-buy experience," said Dean Stoneley, Ford's vice president of marketing in the Asia-Pacific.

The partnership between Alibaba Group and Ford was announced last December and will see the two collaborate on artificial intelligence, cloud computing and e-commerce to redefine how consumers purchase cars.

Other than actually physically stepping into and driving away in the test car, the test drive experience is played out completely through Alibaba's mobile app.

Users can find out which car models are available and then select a time to pick up the car.

After snapping a selfie with the app to confirm their booking, users can book their test drive for as little as £12 – although it could be free for people with a Zhima Credit score of over 700 – part of China's multiple social credit systems.

Image:The giant vending machine started working on Tuesday. Pic: Alibaba

Cao Zhenyu, a senior executive at Changan Ford Automobile, a Ford joint venture headquartered in Chongqing, said that test driving a car is critical to the shopping experience – but traditional test drives failed to provide consumers with what they needed.

"If we lengthen the duration of test drives, consumers can make buying decisions with more confidence and ease," said Cao.

"We want consumers to take our cars out traveling and on their daily commutes for them to fully experience our products, and eventually have that translate to sales at our physical stores."

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Mr Stoneley agreed, saying the online-to-offline initiative was a targeted strategy to drive foot traffic to the company's showrooms.

"It's about having them try Ford vehicles, and ultimately buying the vehicle at a Ford dealership," he said.

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