Chinese e-commerce leviathan Alibaba is set to open two massive cat-shaped car vending machines in Nanjing and Shanghai that will allow prospective buyers the chance to see, test-drive and even buy on-site the car of their choosing. Yes, you read that correctly. Welcome to 2017.
This announcement comes shortly after reports of a possible partnership between Alibaba and Ford to utilize its automotive vending machines and infrastructure to sell vehicles in China. This all may seem strange to American buyers, who have long been saddled with the traditional dealership model, but this kind of no-nonsense experience is proving to be very popular with many affluent Chinese buyers.
Those interested in taking one of the three-day test drives must jump through a few hoops. First, they must have a score of over 700 with China's Zhima Credit system (which has been decried by human rights activists as a mass-surveillance and disciplinary tool) as well as being an accredited Alibaba Super Member, one of the higher tiers of membership in the Alibaba 88 Membership program.
Once their bonafides are checked, they can select a vehicle via an app and then travel to one of the Super Test-Drive Centers. Once there, they will be verified by either facial recognition or a simple log-in code, and they are then able to pick up the vehicle for an extended test drive of up to three days or buy it outright.
To cut down on abuse of the system, users are limited to one test drive of each model with no more than five test drives in the first two months of the program. This new model for car buying has several highline manufacturers ready to participate, including Mercedes-Benz, Maserati, BMW, Audi and Volvo.
"Our thinking behind the Car Vending Machine is focused on helping users solve certain problems they face in the car-buying process," Huan Lu, marketing director of Tmall's automotive division (operated in China by Alibaba), said in a statement. "To do that, we are building a physical, experiential store that offers staffless car pickup through facial-recognition, three-day 'deep' test drives and a one-stop shop that displays [cars from] all mainstream brands at once."
Plans for dozens more Tmall car vending machines across China are in the works, with most slated to be built in the next 12 months. Alibaba is pushing for a bold new future and hopes that this model will be the secret to further expanding China's rapidly growing automotive market.